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Sahney Selected to National Committee on Affordable Drug Access

November 9, 2016

University Distinguished MIE Professor Vinod Sahney appointed to select national committee on "Ensuring Patient Access to Afford­able Drug Ther­a­pies".


Source: News @ Northeastern

The fallout over EpiPen pricing con­tinues. On Monday, a group of U.S. sen­a­tors chal­lenged the phar­ma­ceu­tical com­pany Mylan, which owns the device, to refund $50 mil­lion to the Depart­ment of Defense. The move fol­lowed a Reuters report that the Pentagon’s spending on the EpiPen rose from $9 mil­lion in 2008 to $57 mil­lion over the past year as a result of price hikes, volume, and lower rebates from Mylan.

Vinod Sahney, Uni­ver­sity Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Mechan­ical and Indus­trial Engi­neering, could help ensure such con­tro­ver­sies don’t occur in the future. Sahney has been appointed by the National Acad­e­mies of Sci­ences, Engi­neering, and Med­i­cine to a select com­mittee charged with exam­ining patient access to afford­able, effec­tive ther­a­pies with an emphasis on drug pricing and the role of insur­ance in healthcare.

The project, called Ensuring Patient Access to Afford­able Drug Ther­a­pies, brings together 16 thought leaders from diverse back­grounds, including the mil­i­tary, acad­emia, med­i­cine, Con­gress, state health depart­ments, and the National Insti­tutes of Health, as well as former exec­u­tives from the phar­ma­ceu­tical industry. Sahney, who served as senior vice pres­i­dent and chief strategy officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mass­a­chu­setts before coming to North­eastern, will bring his exper­tise in sys­tems sci­ence as well as insur­ance com­pany oper­a­tions to the project.

The key issue we will be exam­ining is how to make drugs more afford­able and acces­sible, including whether drug com­pa­nies’ pricing poli­cies are rea­son­able as they relate to cost increases for the con­sumer,” says Sahney. Con­sider the EpiPen, he says. “Are the huge price increases jus­ti­fied, or are they just what the market will bear?”

It’s impor­tant to ensure that everyone has access to afford­able drugs, whether the drug is in high demand for, say, chronic con­di­tions, or used by only small num­bers of people.
— Vinod Sahney, Uni­ver­sity Dis­tin­guished Professor

Over its 15-​​month tenure, the com­mittee will also inves­ti­gate how other devel­oped coun­tries, such as Canada, Ger­many, and Sweden, con­trol health­care costs in gen­eral and drug costs, which make up some 15 per­cent of those overall costs, in particular.

If our price for a cer­tain drug goes up 10 per­cent but the same drug in Canada goes up only 5 per­cent, we want to under­stand why,” says Sahney. “Are the charges for adver­tising? For new drug devel­op­ment? What can we learn from the prac­tices of other countries?”

Access for all

In addi­tion to pricing the mem­bers will con­cen­trate on access, in gen­eral and for the poor, eval­u­ating avail­able drug dis­count pro­grams such as 340B. “This is why a sys­tems per­spec­tive is so impor­tant,” says Sahney, who for 25 years was senior vice pres­i­dent of the Henry Ford Health System, a health­care and med­ical ser­vices provider head­quar­tered in Detroit. “For example, you might sug­gest a policy that would lower a drug’s cost but at the same time limit its access or cur­tail new drug devel­op­ment. You need to be able to take all ele­ments of the system into consideration.”

11/03/16 - BOSTON, MA. - Vinod Sahney poses for a portrait on Nov. 3, 2016.  Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Vinod Sahney, Uni­ver­sity Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Mechan­ical and Indus­trial Engi­neering Photo by Adam Glanzman/​Northeastern University

Out­side experts in eco­nomics, data ana­lytics, and other areas will inform the dis­cus­sions. The com­mittee will then draft a report that will be reviewed by an inde­pen­dent panel. The aim is to release a fin­ished product online to the public, mem­bers of Con­gress, and policy makers by the fall of 2017.

We want to look at the issue from all sides,” says Sahney. His posi­tion as senior fellow at the Insti­tute for Health Care Improve­ment and adjunct pro­fessor of health policy and man­age­ment at the Har­vard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have con­tributed to his ability to do just that. “It’s impor­tant to ensure that everyone has access to afford­able drugs, whether the drug is in high demand for, say, chronic con­di­tions, or used by only small num­bers of people,” he says.

How­ever, phar­ma­ceu­tical com­pa­nies might balk at putting sig­nif­i­cant resources into devel­oping drugs in the latter case, as they might not be able to recover their costs, which could limit devel­op­ment of impor­tant ther­a­pies in the future. In response, Sahney raises the ques­tion: “What kind of poli­cies should be in place to ensure that the gov­ern­ment will help sub­si­dize their development?”