Savvy Move or Illegal Anticompetitive Action?

Merck, which markets Remicade® in Europe, may have stepped over an anticompetitive line when Pfizer’s Inflectra® biosimilar was first made available, according to the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority. In the US, however, this activity would be considered routine. Certainly, nothing prevents this action and it would be fully expected, in terms of net costs.

According the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, Merck took unfair advantage of “dominant position through a discount scheme for Remicade that was likely to restrict competition” from the biosimilar infliximab when it was launched in 2015. In this scheme, the drugmaker “unfairly” discounted the product to customers who remained loyal to the product.

Is this really different than offering rebates for preferred positioning? Anecdotal reports in the US indicate that Janssen Biotech, which markets the originator agent in North America, has taken similar action with rebates against Inflectra® (infliximab-dyyb). In fact, Amgen did the same to ward off competition from Zarxio® (filgrastim-sndz). In their cases, they did not discount the wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) to meet the biosimilars’ but simply increased the rebate to yield an equivalent net cost.

This action may be more attractive because it may have fewer implications for “best pricing” discounts required by Medicaid and other payers. Certainly, the maker of the originator product can cut their WAC costs if they desired; at the biosimilars’ modest 15% discounts, this would simply roll pricing back to 2015 levels.

In other news…A case report has been published from New York City, in which a patient switching from the reference infliximab agent to the biosimilar version experienced papulosquamous lesions a few days after the change in medication. Skin biopsy revealed the existence of a lichenoid eruption. This adverse event has not been cited previously in the literature with the reference agent Inflectra®. The direct cause of the drug reaction is unknown but further monitoring is warranted, according to the authors.

On June 2, the European Medicines Agency accepted Sandoz’s application for biosimilar infliximab and adalimumab. Sandoz has not filed a 351(k) application with the US Food and Drug Administration for either product.

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