$7.6 Billion Estimate on Savings Lost From Approved, Nonlaunched Biosimilars Could Be Low

$44 Billion by 2024. $250 Billion by 2024. Whatever. I’ve not been very impressed by the many attempts to estimate how much money biosimilars could save the US health care system. Even the more well-known estimates of biosimilar savings, like those from RAND and Express Scripts, have been little more than games of “pin the tail on the donkey,” as the researchers were blinded as to when products would actually launch and the unproved potential for biosimilar uptake.

Of course, this was not the economists’ fault. They had little past information about the US biosimilars market on which to base their view of the future, and they could not have predicted the extent to which patent litigation prevented access to these medications.

I do appreciate the latest effort, however, by the Biosimilars Council (a subsidiary of the Association for Accessible Medicines) to understand biosimilar savings. Instead of predicting the future, the Council reviewed the past to assess how much each biosimilar would have saved the health care system and patients had they launched as expected.

The number they landed on was $7.6 billion since the introduction of the first biosimilar in 2015 through 2018. It applies not to the seven biosimilars (as of June 12, 2019) that were launched but to the 12 that were approved but not available because of ongoing patent litigation.

As impressive as this lost opportunity sounds, I believe that the biosimilar savings estimate is still too low. The calculation by the Biosimilars Council does not seem to include an important aspect: The reference manufacturer takes significant price annually for each year biosimilar competition does not emerge. The analysis assumed a 30% price discount and 40% uptake, split between two biosimilar competitors. Uptake was assumed to increase to 50% if three were three separate competitors. Yet the analysis was based on actual list prices from IQVIA data.

If biosimilar competition existed, these price increases would not have occurred, likely at all. For example, the availability of Inflectra® and Reflexis® did not fuel great uptake of biosimilars at the expense of Remicade®; however, the infliximab market was changed suddenly, by forcing Janssen Biotech to not only halt their price increases in 2016 but significantly lower their net pricing. As a result, average sales prices have been dropping ever since the introduction of the biosimilars (from a high of $85.81 per 10 mg in January 2018 to $69.96 in July 2019 [–19%]).

Consider the same scenario for the adalimumab biosimilars, which I wrote about previously. Without competition, AbbVie can raise its retail prices right through 2022, resulting in upwards of 50% higher list prices. Although this does not account for contracting, each new payer contract it should be remembered, is based on the current price (not the previously rebated costs). In other words, the higher prices work their way into subsequent payer contracts. How much additional biosimilar savings, on top of the calculated $7.6 billion, would that be? I’m not an economist, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to estimate, based on no future price increases (only future price reductions). Over an 18-month period, Amgen raised the price of Enbrel® four times, resulting in a 37% jump by 2016. Had biosimilar etanercept been available at the time, that would not have happened, yielding an instant 37% savings. That does not prevent the reference manufacturer from hiking the drug price in the months before biosimilar competition occurs. This practice is expected to continue. However, the earliest possible availability of biosimilars will yield compounded price savings.

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