Even Today, Patients and Payers Hold the Key to Biosimilar Uptake Success

Reading the white paper co-published March 19 by the US-based Biosimilars Forum and UK-based Medicines for Europe highlighted for me the importance of an essential roadblock to increased biosimilar uptake in the US.

The white paper outlined structural market changes needed in the US to gain comparable conversion of marketshare in the European market. Without a doubt, barrier number 1 is the patent thicket erected by biologic makers and the resulting patent litigation. This causes barrier number 2: the signing of licensing arrangements that prevent biosimilar makers from entering the market at the earliest possible date.

However, this still doesn’t address the lack of biosimilar uptake for infliximab: Inflectra® has been available for use since 2016. Whereas I placed considerable blame for this on Pfizer, which underestimated payers’ reaction to its initial discount on Inflectra. Today, I place more of the responsibility on the health plans and insurers for lacking the backbone needed to ensure a vibrant biosimilar market for infliximab. The health system can gain the greatest savings by converting to biosimilar infliximab compared with any currently launched biosimilar. With that in mind, let’s consider these agents.

According to the white paper, “Full buy-in is needed from payers to sustain a competitive market that values the most cost-effective medicines. This includes proactive incentivizing of biosimilar prescriptions, educating stakeholders on the promise of biosimilars, and requiring commercial insurers to provide access to biosimilars.”

I will take this one step further. Patients need to act on their desire for less-expensive alternatives at the physician’s office. Two things must occur to produce this result: (1) the provision of more accurate, less misleading information to patients relating the quality of biosimilars and their clinical efficacy and safety, and (2) financial incentives for patients to specifically request biosimilars.

There is no question that patients are often confused by the contradictory information they receive on biosimilars. This harkens back to generic–branded drug battles of decades ago. Without accurate education, patients will not reliably consider a biosimilar alternative to products like Remicade® . Much has been published on this issue already, and several biologic makers have been castigated about their contributions to misinformation. This must intensify if the second “pull-through” for biosimilar uptake is to be successful.

Any American patient who has faced high cost sharing or deductibles has considered ways to lower his or her costs. That includes making the decision to not refill their prescription or take their medications as directed. Infliximab is only available today as an office-based infusion, but should a subcutaneous version be approved, this, too, would be more directly in the patient’s hands.

The only way this will occur is if patients are given an appropriate choice by their health plans and insurers: lower cost sharing for biosimilars. This is accomplished easily, through the creation of a specialty biosimilar tier (or assignment of biosimilar agents on a fixed cost, tier 3–type payment). With the reference product strictly on tier 4 or 5 (co-insurance tiers with high dollar maximums), this would be the practical step to move the needle. For Medicare Part D beneficiaries, this could be as high as 33% co-insurance.

With the exception of very few payers, this has not occurred for Inflectra. It did occur for Zarxio®, as early as 2017, but it is not used for a chronic medication. When patients begin asking for lower-cost alternatives and payers provide cost-sharing structures that favor biosimilar use, Inflectra or Renflexis® uptake will begin to increase. That means payers foregoing short-term rebate revenue for longer-term cost savings. But one cannot occur without the other.

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