Since the October expiration of Abbvie’s EU patent, the potential Humira savings seem to be truly mind-blowing. After implementing its contracts for adalimumab, the UK National Health Service (NHS) should save about three quarters of the $514 million (£400 million) it spends each year on this product alone.
In a fixed-budgeted system like that in the UK, the real implications of these savings become clear. According to the NHS, this additional $385 million (£300 million) will enable it to pay for 11,700 community care nurses or 19,800 treatments in patients with breast cancer.
And to earn these Humira savings, the NHS does not exclude using the originator product Humira. It has signed contracts (with large price cuts) with Abbvie, as well as with biosimilar manufacturers Amgen, Biogen, Mylan and its partner Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin, and Sandoz.
Could the US see such savings on adalimumab in 5 years? Although the competition may be fierce when the brand loses patent protection in 2023, Abbvie has created a stepped-launch scenario with its licensing agreements. Rather than a jailbreak of competition, as we are seeing in the EU with patent expiration there in October 2018, the timing of the licensing agreements may limit the drop in per-unit price, at least for the first year or so.
After that time, payers will be able to choose from all biosimilar adalimumab manufacturers, which should then drive pricing down (or rebates up) considerably, resulting in long-sought lower net costs. However, this will happen only after years of price increases by Abbvie. Abbvie has not claimed, while it is drastically slashing its price in the EU, that it will be losing money. In part, that is because its US revenues on Humira will continue to be at over $10 billion a year. Furthermore, its revenues largely reflect pure profit on the manufacturing of the product today, as its research and development costs were covered 15 years ago and ongoing marketing costs are a tiny fraction of this figure.
Despite repeated protestations in the US that healthcare resources are not unlimited, our system is not based on a fixed budget. It is not disingenuous to consider savings in the terms posed by NHS. Defining the large savings in terms of other useful expenditures give people a concrete idea of how the money can be better used. The need for savings on drug expenditures is acute in this nation, and biosimilars will eventually lead the way.