Precision medicine is ushering in an era of personalized treatments. As a result, biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies are increasingly seeking approvals for orphan drugs to treat rare diseases. In 2020 alone, rare or “orphan” diseases accounted for 57% of novel drug approvals by the FDA.
Unlike other therapies, orphan drugs have limited uses and are intended for niche patient populations. These are not drugs you can pick up at your neighborhood pharmacy on the corner.
Patients who rely on these drugs can only gain access to them via specialty pharmacies.
Given the integral role specialty pharmacies play in a patient’s care journey, many integrated delivery networks (IDNs) have affiliations with these facilities.
Understanding the specialty pharmacy landscape can open up market opportunities for biopharma and medical device companies.
What is a specialty pharmacy
A specialty pharmacy is exactly what it sounds like – it’s a pharmacy that solely or largely provides medications for people with serious health conditions that require complex therapies.
According to Definitive Healthcare data, the most common therapy areas covered by specialty pharmacies include oncology, HIV/AIDS, bleeding and blood disorders, arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.
Unlike a traditional commercial pharmacy, specialty pharmacies play a more active role in patient care. Pharmacists within these facilities are integral members of a patient’s care team. Not only can they dispense treatments, help patients with medication adherence and improve outcomes, they also can help patients seek out financial assistance for treatments.
A snapshot of IDNs with specialty pharmacies facilities
Definitive Healthcare currently tracks nearly 3,200 specialty pharmacies across the United States from nearly 440 different pharmacy and health system networks. Of the 440 networks, nearly half are health system IDNs. Health systems IDNs with the most specialty pharmacies in their network include Johns Hopkins Health System, INTEGRIS Health, Mercyhealth, and Penn Medicine.
Given the specialized handling required for many orphan drugs and complex conditions of the patients, specialty pharmacies tend to be located in and around urban areas instead of more rural communities.
Fig 1 Map representing the distribution of specialty pharmacies across the United States leveraging Definitive Healthcare's proprietary data as of May 2021.
Specialty pharmacies are most common in the eastern U.S. More than 50% of the facilities that Definitive Healthcare tracks are in either the northeast or southeast. The southwest has the fewest specialty pharmacies with only 357 active facilities in the region.
IDNs with specialty pharmacies expand opportunities for biopharma and medical device
Having a line of sight into specialty pharmacies and their relationship with IDNs can help biopharma companies bring new orphan drugs to market.
As the patient population who benefits from orphan drugs is incredibly niche, pharmaceutical companies can face hurdles with clinical trial recruitment and distribution. Insights on specialty pharmacy locations, therapeutic areas, and relationships with IDNs can help pharmaceutical companies bring these valuable therapies to the patient populations who need them most.
Medical device companies can also derive value from understanding an IDNs relationship with a specialty pharmacy. For example, once a medical device company has identified a Center of Excellence, knowing if it has any affiliations with a specialty pharmacy can allow for the company to expand and pursue potential opportunities in that market.
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