Managed Care Pharmacists Survey: We’re on Board With Biosimilars, and Maybe Even Switching

Few suspected that payers were doubters of the clinical value of biosimilar agents, and as the first biosimilars were approved (2015-2016) managed care medical and pharmacy executives were somewhat reluctant to embrace them. However, within the past couple of years, managed care pharmacists told me these concerns were dissipating rapidly. (See the recent interview with Steven Avey as an example.)

A new survey on biosimilars released by the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP) confirmed that managed care pharmacists are on-board with biosimilar safety, efficacy, and the potential for switching. Conducted in October 2018, this survey offers solid evidence of the most recent thinking by pharmacy professionals on biosimilar access and promise.

Investigators from the Academy, PRIME Education, and the University of Pennsylvania analyzed the first 300 responses to their broad solicitation of AMCP members and associated professionals. Thirty-eight percent worked within a health plan or insurer setting, 22% in a pharmacy benefit management organization, and 40% in a specialty pharmacy.

The researchers stated, “84% agreed or strongly agreed that FDA-approved biosimilars are safe and effective for patients who switch from a reference biologic.” Although this does not specifically endorse switching to biosimilars from reference products, it does imply that the payers have no problem with the concept. They were still a bit wary of extrapolation of indications, however. A slight majority (54%) agreed or strongly agreed that extrapolation of indications for biosimilars was safe and effective.

The surveyed payers were asked to select the most effective strategies for increasing biosimilar utilization (i.e., overcoming barriers to biosimilar use). The responses rated the following strategies “extremely likely to be effective”:

  1. Clear FDA guidance for substituting reference biologics with lower-cost biosimilars that meet requirements for interchangeability (54%)
  2. Expanded Medicare and Medicaid policies that promote biosimilar use (41%)
  3. Educational programs for prescribers focusing on evidence from studies in which patients switched from reference biologics to biosimilars (39%)
  4. Formulary policies that promote biosimilar use for treatment-naive patients (39%)
  5. Educational programs for prescribers focusing on real-world evidence from postmarketing studies on biosimilars, including European studies (34%)
  6. Reduced cost sharing for patients using biosimilars (34%)
  7. Incentivizing providers by adjusting fee schedules for biosimilars (34%)

It should be noted that of the 16 potential strategies presented, only 2 (see below) did not garner more than 50% of respondents believing that they were at least “likely” to be effective.

In contrast, the strategies least likely to be effective were:

  1. Requiring therapeutic drug monitoring for patients who switch to biosimilars to address concerns about immunogenicity (28%)
  2. Incentivizing providers by using quotas for prescribing biosimilars to treatment-naïve patients (28%)
  3. Educational programs for prescribers focusing on streamlined billing, coding, and reimbursement processes for biosimilars (12%)
  4. Laws that promote greater public transparency on pricing of biosimilars and reference biologics (11%)

This survey does demonstrate that pharmacists’ comfort levels with biosimilars are fairly high. At the time of the study, it is likely that they had significant experience with only filgrastim and infliximab biosimilars (based on launch dates of the other approved agents, including epoetin and pegfilgrastim).

Challenges Extremely Difficult Difficult or Extremely Difficult
Concerns about biosimilar safety and efficacy among prescribers 16% 61%
Pricing and contracting issues 22% 57%
State laws for substitution and interchangeability 17% 53%
Concerns about biosimilar safety and efficacy among patients 13% 49%
Formulary management issues 8% 35%
Concerns about biosimilar safety and effiacy among payers 7% 23%
Data adapted from
https://www.jmcp.org/doi/full/10.18553/jmcp.2019.18412 .

In terms of these pharmacists’ opinions as to the most challenging barriers to biosimilar adoption, they rated as “extremely difficult”: pricing and contracting issues (22%), state substitution and interchangeability laws (17%), and prescriber concerns about efficacy and safety of biosimilars (16%).

When asked what biosimilar manufacturers can do, their responses emphasized pricing: Use contracting “to overcome the current [biologic reference] products’ substantial rebated dollars” and “come to market with more aggressive discounts off [average wholesale price].”

State Biosimilar Laws Need Clarity and Consistency

Although 41 states currently have passed legislation to enable plans to substitute interchangeable biosimilars, these state biosimilar laws seem an attempt to put the cart in front of the horse. Reginia Benjamin, JD, Director of Legislative Affairs, at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy, explained that the first state legislation to optimize the use of biosimilars was signed in 2013, before any were approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Biosimilars Review Biosimilar ReportsMs. Benjamin’s presentation last week at the annual meeting of the AMCP in Boston highlighted the fact that by the time Zarxio®, the first biosimilar was approved, 10 states had similar laws on the books.

The individual state biosimilar laws do vary quite a bit. Some of them specified that notification must be given to the provider (via phone, fax, or notation in the EMR) that a reference product is being substituted. She added that these requirements are generally above and beyond what is mandated for the dispensing of other medications.

At the time the majority of these laws were enacted, the FDA had not yet defined the criteria for an interchangeable biosimilar.
As a result, the medications’ definition of interchangeability varies in some states’ legislation. For example, they may rely on the way the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA) framed interchangeability, which is less specific than the FDA’s current guidelines.

To complicate matters, said Ms. Benjamin, states may also refer to a level of therapeutic equivalence as defined by the FDA’s Orange Book. However, the Orange Book does not address biologics, only small molecules. The Purple Book would be the appropriate reference, but this was only introduced in 2014.

Additional state legislative language, which is not uniform, includes the following:

  • Patients must be notified before receiving the biosimilar medicine (and varying timeframes for such notification)
  • Receipt of patient approval of the interchanged biosimilar before dispensing
  • Requirements to state boards of pharmacy produce a website with information on FDA-approved interchangeable biosimilars
  • Limits on liability for pharmacists who substitute a biosimilar for a reference product (ie, no greater liability exists than for filling any other prescription)

Ms. Benjamin stated that “state laws are inconsistent with the intent of the BPCIA,” for instance, pharmacists do not have independent authority to substitute a biosimilar agent for the originator product without the approval of the health provider. They fail to recognize the Purple Book as the FDA’s reference source for information about the interchangeability of biosimilars.

She concluded that education is key in providing stakeholders to better inform them of the potential for these drugs, “to provide increased access to safe and more cost-effective drugs.”

Lessons for Biosimilars From the Generic Drug Industry

The utilization of generics in the US is vast, upwards of 86% of all prescriptions in 2017, according to the latest research by IQVIA. The pace of generic drug approvals by the Food and Drug Administration is also impressive, with 767 last year. This does not ensure the future of the generic drug industry, however, said Doug Long, MBA, IQVIA’s Vice President of Industry Relations. If we’re not careful, biosimilars in the pipeline could suffer a fate similar to that for newly approved generics.

Doug Long, IQVIA
Doug Long, IQVIA

In his yearly update presented at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy 2018 annual meeting on April 25, Mr. Long said that despite near-record numbers of generic approvals over a three-year period, “only 30% of these generics were actually launched. That’s not happened before.” The reason is that the manufacturers, upon receiving approval, reevaluate the marketplace prospects for their product and the competition. “They decide not to throw additional money into a losing proposition,” he stated. In fact, of the 767 generic approvals, only 73 were first-time generics. Ninety percent were simply piling competition onto already crowded drug categories.

He terms it a race to the bottom, but not a death spiral for generics. That is, “we’ve already reached the bottom, and we will come off of it” at some point. Generic drug manufacturers’ reticence to launch will help change the market direction.

Biosimilars have vast potential to save health care dollars, but only if they are launched. In a couple of instances, manufacturers have reviewed their biosimilar positions (Shire, EMD Serono) while early in the pipeline. Though it is reasonable to expect a paring back of prospective biosimilar drug makers, we hoped this would happen once the marketplace becomes saturated. That of course has not happened.

More Evidence of Value in Generics

Although several generic drugs have been associated with steep price increases, the net price change in 2017 for generics was -7.2%, according to Mr. Long. Most of this was the result of large rebates. Despite 86% generic drug prescribing, generics account for only 13% of the revenues. “I think there will be more generic drug shortages as a result of this revenue picture. People are refusing to launch after receiving approval, based on the dynamics of the marketplace,” he said. There will be more patent expirations and opportunities for first-time generics, “but I have less optimism on the biosimilar side.”

“Of 9 biosimilar approvals, we have only 3 launched products,” emphasized Mr. Long, “accounting for just $1 billion in total value of US marketplace in biosimilars.” He was hopeful that biosimilars for Remicade would have “broken the dam,” but this hasn’t happened. “Instead, payers have chosen to take the rebates, not the biosimilars. That resulted in only a 3% marketshare as a result for infliximab biosimilars.”

He noted that the average rebates given to payers and pharmacy benefit managers is 25% for biologics overall. Rebates in the autoimmune area averaged 20%, but payer market research routinely confirms that Janssen’s Remicade® rebates well exceed this figure.

Note: IQVIA is the child of the marriage between Quintiles and IMS.

 

New Resource on Biosimilars From AMCP

The Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy unveiled its new Biosimilar Resource Center (www.biosimilarsresourcecenter.org), “an unbiased, policy-neutral repository of educational resources and information on biosimilars for pharmacists, physicians, nurses and other health care providers,” according to the Academy’s press release.

Partners in the site with AMCP include America’s Health Insurance Plans, American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, the American Pharmacists Association, the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, the Hematology/Oncology Pharmacists Association, the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations, and the National Community Pharmacists Association.AMCP logo

To main neutrality, the Biosimilar Resource Center will not accept sponsorships or advertising. Susan Cantrell, President of AMCP, noted, “Our initiative to educate U.S. health care providers about the benefits of biosimilars will be critical in ensuring that the therapies become widely adopted and utilized in a safe and effective manner.”

Ms. Cantrell is right; education, and lots of it, will be needed to optimize the use of biosimilar agents. A study conducted in 2015 (http://managedhealthcareexecutive.modernmedicine.com/managed-healthcare-executive/news/survey-finds-stakeholders-lack-understanding-biosimilars) and released on Monday, June 27th, revealed “a general lack of understanding of biosimilars among key opinion leaders.” This survey found that only one-third of health care providers understood the key tenet of biosimilars—that the molecules are very close structurally and that they should yield equivalent outcomes to the innovator products.

However, the amount of publicity and attention given to biosimilars in the first 6 months of 2016 alone may have moved the needle significantly on stakeholders’ knowledge of these agents. At least we hope so.

In Other News, Pfizer committed $350 Million to building a new biosimilar production facility in China. Hoping to prepare to meet the global need for biosimilars, Pfizer today announced the ground breaking for a “Global Biotechnology Center” in Hangzhou, China  http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160627006468/en/Pfizer-Advances-Biosimilars-Leadership-Investment-World-Class-Global. It will be largely fulfilling demand for biosimilars in Southeast Asia. The new facility will be the third such biotech centers built by Pfizer worldwide.