Let’s not Knock Innovation, but Biosimilars Exist for the Sake of Competition

A recent Twitter conversation between a blogging colleague of mine and a German advocate of precision medicine propelled this post: What is the real benefit of biosimilars? Does biosimilar development detract from efforts to produce innovative medicines? Is the main societal benefit biosimilar cost savings?

biosimilar cost savings

Biosimilar Development Is Separate From Innovation Development

The main reason that the Biologics and Biosimilars Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA) was signed into legislation was related to cost containment. For biologics, there was no pathway for the evaluation and approval for lower-cost copies in the US health system, akin to the generic-brand name dynamic for conventional drugs. Adding competition has been the first and only point. The specialty drug trend had been rising rapidly, and the long-term estimates were frightening: Costs associated with specialty drugs like biologics threaten to eat 48% of the total drug spending pie in the United States by 2020.

Two factors were responsible. The first, increasing specialty drug utilization, has been especially difficult to address. The pipeline is congested with biologics. Medical societies are increasingly incorporating biologics into their guidelines and clinical pathways. Prescribers have grown more comfortable with these agents, and payers have limited tools at their disposal to put the brakes on their use.

The second, price increases, are well known and publicized. Without competition, drug companies tend to test what the market will bear, and to this point, they have borne quite a bit. Unlike in Europe, where the tender system of pharmaceutical purchasing has resulted in better cost containment, the US payers have been accustomed to stomaching large price increases through increased use of rebate contracts with price guarantees. But the overall costs continue to rise, as contracts expire and new ones are drawn up. Thus, the list prices for drugs like Enbrel® and Humira® have skyrocketed, with Humira’s more than doubling in a few years.

There is no evidence to say that biosimilar manufacturers would have engaged in the development of innovative new agents had they not devoted resources to this area. Indeed, pure-play biosimilar makers, like Coherus or Adello, were only introduced to produce biosimilars. Other makers, such as Samsung Bioepis, are joint ventures of existing manufacturers to do the same. Biogen recently raised its stake in Samsung Bioepis to nearly 50% of the company’s shares. This could be construed as a case of an originator company pouring $700 million into a biosimilar manufacturer, which could be using that money directly for other purposes. Finally, firms like Apotex, Mylan, Sandoz, and Hospira (now part of Pfizer) are heavily involved in generic drug manufacturing. Biosimilar development was a natural extension for them. Even big pharma players, such as Amgen, Merck, and Pfizer, are more commonly engaged in biosimilar marketing partnerships rather than purely R&D efforts (e.g., Amgen/Allergan, Merck/Samsung Bioepis, Pfizer/Celltrion).

One can also make an argument that pharmaceutical innovation is more evident at the drug discovery level. These days, big pharma seems less interested in pursuing drug discovery than in purchasing it.

The Societal Benefits of Biosimilars

The EMA and FDA biosimilar pathways were created to introduce competition that would lower drug costs. This in turn would make innovative biologic therapy available to more patients. Biosimilar cost savings could drive greater access to important drug technologies.

With the EU’s longer and more extensive experience with biosimilar medications, costs have indeed been saved. Although this has varied by country, it is undeniable.

In the US, with very limited economic experience with biosimilars (filgrastim and infliximab), savings figures are more theoretical than real. Although the infusion of a biosimilar into the new market may reduce wholesale acquisition price of the reference drug a bit, it will have a greater effect on net pricing, after rebates. And, of more immediate importance, the new biosimilar has the potential to halt further price increases for the originator product. This aspect of biosimilars cost savings cannot be overemphasized. Between the first adalimumab biosimilar approval and the initial availability of these products in 2023, the list price of Humira can increase upwards of 40% (or more, if Abbvie veers from its pledge to limit price increases). The initial price of the first adalimumab biosimilar will thus be much higher than if it was launched last year. On the other hand, adalimumab biosimilars will launch in the EU in October of this year, which should effectively lower cost products and limit their EU members’ exposure to future Humira price increases.

Biosimilar cost savings can have real benefits in terms of improved access. Payers’ incentives to use biosimilars (if they are motivated to implement them) can result in lower patient cost sharing. For example, a fourth-tier biologic may be subject to a 20% cost share, whereas a third-tier biosimilar may carry a flat copay of $100. This can make a difference in terms of therapeutic choices available to patients.

In conclusion, the German correspondent is only partly right. Biosimilars are not innovative. They are highly complex, cost-control medications. Do they detract the focus of manufacturers from new innovative products? There’s no evidence of this. However, we are beginning to see limited evidence in the US of the societal benefits, namely cost savings, they can bring.

An FDA Filing for Momenta’s Adalimumab Biosimilar Coming Soon?

Momenta seems to be in final preparations for its first 351(k) filing to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In its recent investor conference, the company disclosed that it is ready to send M923, its adalimumab biosimilar, to the agency for approval.

Momenta's Adalimumab Biosimilar
Craig Wheeler, CEO of Momenta Pharmaceuticals

Despite this promising news, Momenta is facing strong headwinds. Even if it gains approval, Momenta expects that the US launch of the adalimumab biosimilar will not occur until 2023, owing to pending patent issues with Abbvie’s Humira®. The company does not yet have a marketing partner for this agent, though there appears to be plenty of time.

In addition, Momenta received a setback in November 2017 on another looming biosimilar candidate, when its biosimilar version of abatacept failed its phase 1 trial. Apparently, its M834 produced pharmacokinetic results that differed from the originator Orencia® in this early clinical study. Momenta is still studying the data and trying to come to grips with the surprising findings.

The company is also set to begin “pivotal” clinical trials on its other drug candidate M710, a biosimilar to aflibercept. The originator product is Eylea®, and it is indicated to treat wet age-related macular degeneration.

Momenta’s partnership with Mylan is moving forward with preclinical work on four other nonspecified biosimilars, according to the company. But all of this development costs money, and Momenta has acknowledged that it may need to raise cash for future development.

Momenta received approval in January for a generic form of the multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone® (glatiramer acetate). The approval of this agent, produced in partnership with Sandoz, had been delayed because of manufacturing issues. The company recognizes that the entry of Mylan (ironically) into this market may hinder its financial outlook.

As a result of these developments, Momenta stated it would entertain a sale of its adalimumab biosimilar “or other assets.”

 

The Patent Games: Another Sequel Underway

Roche/Genentech has filed suit in Delaware, citing the alleged violation of 37 patents by Amgen in its intent to market its biosimilar version of Herceptin®.  

The litigation was filed in response to Amgen’s stated intention of launching their product in October 2018, based on a May approval. Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration decided not to approve Amgen and Allergan’s initial 351(k) application in early June.

Roche has been engaged with Pfizer and the team of Celltrion and Teva on their trastuzumab biosimilars as well.

Fujifilm Gains Further Exposure in Biosimilar Partnerships

The biosimilar industry continues to make strange bedfellows. In July 2016, I reported in the Center for Biosimilars that a subsidiary of the Japanese camera maker, Fujifilm, had jumped into the biosimilar field. The Indian pharmaceutical company Biocon announced that it has launched its new insulin glargine biosimilar in Japan. Fujifilm Pharma Co, Ltd was named as the partner in this endeavor to commercialize the product in Japan.

Fujifilm Pharma is a producer of diagnostic and therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals, in addition to contrast media. This makes sense, as the parent is in the imaging business. Medical imaging can be a very natural extension of this activity. But biosimilars?

To reaffirm its strategy, Fujifilm announced a new partnership.  Its Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin Biologics subsidiary will manufacture a adalimumab biosimilar in the EU (filed for approval in the EU only) and will be commercialized by Mylan if approved. There is no information about whether Fujifilm will seek authorization to market this biosimilar in the US down the road.

Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin AstraZenecaTo further its chances of commercializing this biosimilar in the EU, Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin Biologics joined a lawsuit in April 2017 with Samsung Bioepis and its partner Biogen. The lawsuit, filed in the UK, sought to invalidate Abbvie’s two remaining adalimumab patents, and the UK court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, opening the door to marketing next year in Europe. Fujifilm also has a bevacizumab biosimilar (FKB 238) in phase 3 clinical investigation.

The parent company has over 200 subsidiaries, and it can be complicated to track which ones are directly involved. For example, another Fujifilm company, Fujifilm Diosynth, does contract manufacturing of biologics. Yet, the phase 3 trial being carried out on FKB238 is sponsored by Centus Biotherapeutics Limited, which is a joint venture between Astra Zeneca and Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin Biologics. Centus seems to be involved only with the bevacizumab biosimilar, not with the adalimumab agent. Despite this web of intrigue, Fujifilm is not likely to be overexposed in the biosimilar marketplace. It is also unknown whether their efforts will be affected by the recent difficulties of its partners Biocon and Mylan with getting its pegfilgrastim biosimilar approved. It has been reported that Biocon will also benefit from this latest Mylan collaboration.

With the Samsung Bioepis Deal, Abbvie Tightening Its Grip on the US Adalimumab Market

Samsung Bioepis and Biogen has reached a deal with Abbvie that would enable it to market its biosimilar adalimumab (should it be granted approval) in June 2023. This is the second deal Abbvie has made with a potential competitor, confirming the solidity of its patent wall. The European patent expires in October 2018, and competitors will be able to sell biosimilars over the pond unhindered at that time.

However, without competition, most expect unencumbered price increases until a US biosimilar introduction. In other words, biosimilars will not make an appreciable impact on the cost of adalimumab in the US market, unless another biosimilar manufacturer decides to launch at risk in the near future.

A Deal Prior to FDA Approval

The agent, SB5 has not yet been filed for approval in the US. Samsung filed its application for approval in the EU in July 2016 and was authorized by the European Medical Agency in August 2017. Biogen will market the agent for Samsung, whenever it is launched.

Amgen inked a deal with Abbvie in September 2017, effectively ending its patent battle. This deal gives Amgen a jump on other competitors that reach settlements with Abbvie, by allowing a launch in January 2023. In addition, other manufacturers are working on adalimumab biosimilars, including Coherus and Sandoz. The biggest question though is Boehringer Ingelheim’s move, as they have the only other FDA-approved adalimumab biosimilar approved on the marketplace (but also unlaunched). Boehringer responded to our request but declined to comment on its plans mAbbvie produces Humira (adalimumab)oving forward with the product, including a targeted launch date.

Without Competition, Expect 45% Jump in WAC Price 

As addressed earlier in this space, the time to effective competition for a US biosimilar adalimumab is crucial. Abbvie’s annual global revenue on the product may reach as much as $21 billion, with the last price increase registered in January, at 9.7%. Assuming Abbvie sticks to its pledge of no more than one

10% price increase per year, that would result in a wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) of more than $52,000 at the close of 2022, or a 45% jump from today’s WAC. This figure does not reflect individual negotiated rates (including rebates) that health plans and insurers actually pay. Yet, it does roughly indicate what type of discount will be necessary when biosimilars reach the market to simply attain the cost paid in 2018—that is, no more savings. Without competition before 2023, this may be the one area where payers pray for a rapid and bracing race to the bottom on price once 2023 rolls around. With Abbvie’s hand continuing on the tiller, don’t plan on it.

In other biosimilar news…Celltrion acknowledged that it is seeking to rectify the manufacturing plant issues that torpedoed its FDA approval of biosimilars for trastuzumab and rituximab. In the statement, it noted, “Celltrion is confident that the issues raised by the FDA will be resolved in a timely manner.

We can confirm that the resubmission will be in-place relatively soon. Then, we are expecting approvals in 6 months after resubmission according to regulatory timeline.”

More Clinical Study Evidence That Biosimilar Switching Carries a Low Risk

A literature review published this past weekend in Drugs reaffirms what most parties interested in biosimilars suspect—that switching from a reference product to biosimilar is not a significant clinical concern. Biosimilar switching was not generally associated with poorer outcomes.

The study evaluated the results of 90 clinical studies comprising more than 14,000 patients with 14 diseases or conditions. The authors from Novartis (and its Sandoz subsidiary), the Oregon Medical Research Center, Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, IBD Center of Humanitas Clinical and Research Hospital (Milan), and Avalere Health stated that “the great majority of the publications did not report differences in immunogenicity, safety, or efficacy [as a result of biosimilar switching]. The nature and intensity of safety signals reported after switching from reference medicines to biosimilars were the same as those already known from continued use of the reference medicines alone.” In addition, they reported, “Three large multiple switch studies with different biosimilars did not show differences in efficacy or safety after multiple switches between reference medicine and biosimilar.”

In this evaluation, the biosimilars tested included those for infliximab, epoetin, filgrastim, growth hormone (which has not been considered a biosimilar in the Ubiosimilar switchingS), etanercept, and adalimumab. Infliximab was the subject of the majority of the clinical studies.

Of the 90 studies, two were outliers, suggesting potential safety issues associated with biosimilar switching. One was described as a 2016 retrospective study of a claims database from Turkey, which found a much higher discontinuation rate with the infliximab biosimilar compared with originator product in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

The authors correctly note that the vast majority of the studies reviewed involved a single biosimilar switch, and that multiple switches may result in additional safety signals. However, they also point out that “patients have already been exposed to de facto multiple switches for many originator biologics when product quality attributes changed after one or more manufacturing process modifications were introduced.”

The question arises as to whether multiple switch studies are truly necessary outside of the requirement to prove interchangeability between a biosimilar and a reference product. There is a practical reason for doing so—the possibility (actually, the likelihood) of a patient enrolling in a new health plan one year, which covers the biosimilar but not the reference product. If the patient’s health plan changes once again one or two years later, that person may well be required to switch back to the reference product or yet another biosimilar.

This will heighten the importance of collecting real-world evidence and accumulating more experience outside of the clinical trial environment in terms of switching. Efforts such as those at the Biologics and Biosimilars Collective Intelligence Consortium should fill this gap over the next several years.

 

What Will Cost Savings on 2023 Adalimumab Biosimilars Really Be Worth?

AbbVie executives are sticking to their pledge to restrict annual price increases on Humira® below 10%, but even payer price protections won’t mitigate the increasing expenditures before adalimumab biosimilars hit the market. In 2023, when adalimumab biosimilars become available, the savings biosimilars represent may not be real savings at all.

Pharmaceutical companies generally seek to lock in preferred coverage status for their agents through the use of rebates, which lowers the net costs. Typical in these contracts is a price guarantee, which shields the payer from annual (or more frequent) price increases for the duration of the contract. The contract life is one or two years, after which the health plan, insurer, health system, or pharmacy benefits manager must renegotiate—that means significantly higher costs for each successive contract renewal.

Humira adalimumab

Drug price increases for self-injectable medications like adalimumab, are reported on top of its wholesale acquisition cost (WAC), or the list price. Rebates are applied to WAC pricing. Therefore, if for example, a manufacturer announces 9% price increase to drug X, that applies to the WAC price and does not include consideration of rebates or price guarantees secured by a payer. Rebate information is notoriously difficult to obtain, as payers and pharmaceutical companies consider them proprietary.

However, in a January piece in the New York Times, the author cites research by SSR Health, which concludes that the price of Humira with rebates rose 100% since 2012 to an average of approximately $38,000. Assuming AbbVie executives hold to their price increase pledge, raising their prices by only 6% per year, by 2023 when patent expirations will bring a rash of biosimilars to market, Humira’s price after rebates would have risen 33.8%, to $50,844. If the price is jacked up 9% per year, that would be an increase of 53.9%, to $58,482. This is assuming of course that AbbVie does not increase the rebate at each contract negotiation to offset the higher net cost. To make this dystopian vision complete, let’s not forget that the full savings will not obtained over a population unless all utilization is fully converted to a biosimilar from Humira. That may require an interchangeable biosimilar product (which has not yet been approved) .

As we reported last year, the Institute for Cost-Effectiveness Research established that to meet accepted thresholds for cost-effectiveness, Humira would have to be discounted 55% from its list price. Rises in the cost-effectiveness thresholds (currently $100,000–150,000 per quality-adjusted life-year) would never keep up with this pace of price increases. By 2023, Humira will be even further off the mark in terms of providing value.

The most important point of this, is that the cost savings of the biosimilars that are finally introduced could be an illusion. If a price war in 2023 for newly available adalimumab biosimilars results in 50% discounts, we may have received little but a roll back in costs to those of today. From the perspective of 2018, that’s not savings. That is price stability.

I wrote in 2016 of the same effect for Enbrel®. Because Amgen had taken multiple price increases in the previous years, the WAC cost jumped 37%. And in 2018, no biosimilar is presently marketed for prescription in the United States. The relative discount by Sandoz (presently the sole US company with an approved biosimilar etanercept) needed to actually save payers money for etanercept will not be realistic.

Sandoz Files 351(k) Application for Adalimumab Biosimilar

Sandoz announced that it has thrown its hat in the ring for another Humira biosimilar. Sandoz filed an European application for approval for GP2017 last year, in the expectation that it will be able to launch soon after the European patent expires in October 2018.

This will be the third application for an adalimumab biosimilar. Versions by Amgen (Amjevita) and Boehringer Ingelheim (Cyltezo) have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); however, patent litigation has held up marketing. Amgen had signed an agreement with Humira’s manufacturer Abbvie to postpone marketing until 2023. Boehringer Ingelheim has not signed a similar agreement, but no indication is yet given regarding the US launch of this product.

It is assumed that European revenues will sustain the biosimilar manufacturers until US marketing begins. This is Sandoz’s fifth FDA biosimilar application. It has received approval for Zarxio (filgrastim) and Erelzi (etanercept); its application for rituximab is under review, and it received a rejection for its version of pegfilgrastim.

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.

FDA Approves New Humira Biosimilar, Bypasses Advisory Board Route

Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. announced August 29 that it had received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its first biosimilar. Named Cyltezo™ (adalimumab-adbm), a biosimilar to Humira®, it is approved for several autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn’s disease in adults, plaque psoriasis, and ulcerative colitis.

The FDA approval bypassed the need for an Arthritis Advisory Committee review and recommendation, which the agency suggested may be increasingly common with future biosimilar approvals. One suspects that this is more likely with the licensing of the first biosimilar for a particular originator product, with the assumption of a comprehensive data package on submission.

Like Amgen’s Amjevita®, Boehringer’s biosimilar will likely enter a holding pattern until patent litigation is settled (or the patents expire) on AbbVie’s Humira. In the meantime, Boehringer indicated that it will seek approval for an autoinjector, to stand alongside its newly approved subcutaneous formulation.

Boehringer has also applied for approval with the European Medicines Agency, which is expected to decide on its approval before the end of this year. Samsung Bioepsis and partner Biogen earned its own European approval for Imraldi™ this week, another adalimumab biosimilar.

Boehringer May Seek Interchangeable Designation for Adalimumab Biosimilar

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced earlier this year its draft standards for assessing the interchangeability of biosimilars with originator products. One biosimilar developer announced on July 27 that it is embarking on a study specifically to prove interchangeability of its biosimilar version of adalimumab.

Initial recruitment of the “VOLTAIRE-X Pharmacokinetics, Safety, Immunogenicity and Efficacy of BI 695501 Versus Humira® in Patients With Moderate to Severe Chronic Plaque Psoriasis: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Parallel-Arm, Multiple-Dose, Active Comparator Trial” was announced by Boehringer Ingelheim to provide evidence that its investigational biosimilar BI 695501 can be substituted for Humira without significant negative clinical or safety effects. The study will incorporate repeated switching between the originator and the biosimilar agent in 240 patients with plaque psoriasis.

Boehringer’s 351(k) application for BI 695501 was sent to FDA in January 2017. A decision is expected in the fourth quarter. The clinical studies supporting BI 695501 were conducted in patients with rheumatoid arthritis; another is underway in patients with active Crohn’s disease. The VOLTAIRE-X interchange study will not be completed until July 2019; therefore, any FDA decision regarding interchangeability on this biosimilar will be made at least 2 years from now.