Are We Now Thinking “Authorized Biosimilars”?

Authorized generics have been around for a couple of decades. They can be a challenge to payers, health systems, and patients who are seeking the price-reduction benefits borne out of normal competition. The Amgen–Abbvie agreementHerceptin on the biosimilar for Humira® seems to be right out of this playbook.

In summary, authorized generics work like this:

  • A brand manufacturer has a product that is nearing patent expiration
  • Rather than ceding its marketshare altogether in the face of multisource products, the manufacturer will come to an agreement with a generic drug maker to produce the first generic of its product, which allows the branded company to earn licensing fees and royalties on the drug
  • The additional royalty or licensing fee means that the price of the authorized generic will likely be higher than if there was no agreement
  • The maker of the authorized generic will get to market sooner (perhaps even prior to patent expiration)
  • Competing generic manufacturers will have to edge their way into the market against not only the authorized generic maker but perhaps the branded manufacturer that is benefiting from the agreement

On September 28, Amgen and Abbvie announced an end to the patent litigation between the companies. The agreement will allow Amgen to market its biosimilar (Amjevita™) in the US (in 2023) and in the EU (in 2019). The dates reflect differences in principal patent expirations for the two major markets. The all-important composition-of-matter patent expired in December 2016, which is why potential biosimilar manufacturers had hopes of marketing their products as early as 2017 in the US. The other patents don’t expire until 2023.

Under the agreement, Amgen acknowledges the validity of Abbvie’s myriad non–composition of matter patents on Humira and gives up the litigation fight to market its version of adalimumab. Amgen will pay Abbvie a licensing fee to market the product, similar to the type of deal for an authorized generic.

Presumably, Amgen entered into the agreement and did not launch at risk, because it feared that Abbvie would be able to successfully defend its patent maze in court. The agreement would allow Amgen to launch in the European market, which would sustain it during the wait to launch in the US.

However, Amgen is not the only potential maker of an adalimumab biosimilar. Boehringer Ingelheim has an approved product (Cyltezo™), which was approved in January 2017. Several other players are in later-stage trials, including (at least) Coherus Biosciences, Momenta Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, Samsung Bioepis, and Sandoz. It is too early to tell what this agreement might mean for them. Might Abbvie be willing to make separate agreements with them as well, thereby ensuring itself of a cut of these profits for years to come?

In the biosimilar space, there is no exclusivity for the first biosimilar to market, and if a drug maker sought to launch at risk, the rewards can actually outweigh the potential penalties if they found themselves on the wrong end of ongoing patent litigation. Pfizer took the gamble with its Inflectra® biosimilar of infliximab.

If they have to wait until 2023 for this biosimilar, payers may decide to take action. One way would be to encourage the use of other anti-TNF inhibitors or even other effective biologic classes over Humira, if their pricing made sense. However, Humira is often preferred and significant rebates would be at stake.

Legislators did not account for the possibility of authorized biosimilars. It could be a further obstacle to making biologics more accessible to the people who may most benefit from their use.

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