March 16, 2011 / 9:40 PM / 8 years ago

Medicare proposes no changes for anemia drugs

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Medicare officials do not plan at this time to change payment terms for anemia drugs used in kidney patients who are undergoing dialysis.

The agency, which is slated to issue a final decision on the matter in June, also said it has found no clear proof that the drugs provide clinical benefits other than increasing hemoglobin.

Endorsement of current reimbursement guidelines would benefit shares of Amgen Inc, which rakes in billions from sales of its flagship Epogen anemia drug for treatment of kidney dialysis patients.

Under a draft decision announced on Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it would not issue a national coverage determination at this time.

The agency said it would seek comments on the announcement, and would respond in a final decision memorandum in June.

Wall Street analysts say the government healthcare plan might lower the threshold for target hemoglobin rates in dialysis patients, thereby reducing usage of Epogen, which is approved for usage in kidney patients undergoing dialysis.

A second-generation Amgen drug, Aranesp, as well as Procrit, which is sold by Johnson & Johnson, are used to treat anemia in kidney patients who are not yet sick enough to need dialysis.

Known as erythropoiesis stimulating agents, or ESAs, the anemia medicines are used by patients with chronic kidney disease at various stages to help reduce fatigue caused by the disease or blood transfusions.

Sales of the drugs have declined steeply in recent years amid safety concerns, but Amgen’s Aranesp and Epogen along with J&J’s Procrit are still expected to generate $7 billion in 2011 revenue, according to data from Thomson Reuters.

Reporting by Susan Heavey and Deena Beasley; Editing by Steve Orlofsky

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