Call it irritation, exasperation, or frustration, but biosimilar manufacturers and payers alike are feeling it, as the fight over drug patents has barred the way to approval for yet another biosimilar for a costly biologic.
In this case, Sandoz’s Erelzi™, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on August 30, 2016, has been caught in the patent litigation web. The originator drug, Amgen’s Enbrel® was first approved in 1998. Amgen asserts that its patent on the agent protects exclusivity until 2029, which would give Amgen 31 years of sole marketing rights. Despite the unlikely event that it can defend its patent for this extraordinary period, Sandoz has acknowledged that it will need to hold off launch of the biosimilar until at least 2018.
In a report from Reuters on January 25, Richard Francis, CEO of Sandoz, stated that the legal battle “won’t really reach a conclusion until 2018. That’s the frustration sometimes of the legal situation, but the way I look at that, we’re carving the landscape out as we go.”
Indeed, Sandoz has been at the forefront of legal battles, also fighting Amgen on the validity of the 180-day notification period, which is now being readied for US Supreme Court arguments in the Spring. The 180-day notification period for Erelzi was due to end in
late February 2017. After this time, Sandoz may still launch the product, at risk of financial penalties and loss of revenues, if the courts rule that Amgen’s remaining patent is valid.
However, the potential for savings on Enbrel, through biosimilar competition, continues to be a mirage for payers. The agent, which pulled in US revenues of $5 billion in 2015, has been the subject of numerous recent price increases. Health plans and insurers, while believing these costs untenable, may have little choice but to pay up or find ways to more aggressively restrict access.