A Health System Biosimilar Survey’s Implications

When asked about potential cost savings with the infliximab biosimilar, nearly one-quarter of health system respondents did not believe that it represented a cost savings opportunity for their organization, according to a newly published survey in the Journal of Managed Care and Specialty Pharmacy.

Conducted by Premier, Inc., a group purchasing organization, 57 US health systems responded to its questionnaire in April and May 2017 (before the launch of Merck/Samsung Bioepis’ Renflexis® biosimilar). All of the health systems currently used infliximab at their facilities.

The greatest barrier to adoption cited by the health systems was the reimbursement from payers (28%), with actual cost of the biosimilar being a lesser concern (10%). According to the survey, about one-third of the respondents had had communications by that time with payers regarding the latter’s approach to biosimilar coverage.

Interestingly, 62% of those systems represented by the survey respondents had not reviewed Pfizer’s Inflectra® in their Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committees. In large part, thiBR&R Logo Transparent1.5-21-2017s was a continuation of a “wait-and-see” approach, particularly in view of the relatively small discounts offered by Pfizer. Others responded that they were awaiting Merck’s entry into the marketplace, to review both biosimilars at the same time.

“For sites of care that approved formulary addition of the infliximab biosimilar, implementation strategies ranged from full product conversion to ‘new patients’ only,” wrote the author, Sonia T. Oskouei, PharmD, Director of Pharmacy Program Development-Biosimilars at Premier. “Some sites added it to their formularies as a preferred product but only when payer coverage supported it.”

Seventy-six percent of respondents perceived that there was a cost savings opportunity for biosimilars compared with the reference product. What are the expectations of the remaining health system executives? If they don’t believe biosimilars do not save the system money, why not?

Interchangeability: Another Challenging Perspective

Although the FDA has offered a pathway for the interchangeable designation, a recent presentation at the AMCP Nexus meeting shone a new light on some fairly important challenges posed by the interchangeable designation.

Edward Li, PharmD, MPH, Professor of Pharmacy, University of New England, Portland, Maine, raised the Web image 3well-trod issue of manufacturing drift—that over time, the reference product in particular is often subject to slight changes in structure that may be due to manufacturing changes, or other factors. This is an extremely important concept in biosimilars, as it highlights that these biologics can never be exact copies of the biologic drug. In fact, the originator biologic produced today cannot be expected to be exactly the same as the medication that was first approved 15 years ago. Although the structure may have changed subtly in these complex molecules, the clinical effects and outcomes have not materially changed. With interchangeability, Dr. Li said, “There should be no clinically meaningful differences,” in terms of safety, purity, and potency.

Once the FDA assigns the interchangeability designation to a prospective biosimilar or one that has already been marketed (and subsequent studies have provided FDA with the data to conclude that it is interchangeable with the originator), payers expect to be able to freely substitute this biosimilar for the originator at the point of dispensing—an expected boon to health plans and insurers, as well as the biosimilar maker.

However, what of the interchangeable biosimilar in the future? If manufacturing drift continues to occur over the course of time, the variation in the biosimilar and originator product will have introduced new subtle changes compared with that previously used in the approval process. “Differences may accumulate over time,” said Dr. Li, and hypothetically, these can lead to differences in safety and efficacy.” Does the biosimilar manufacturer need to prove interchangeability all over again, five years later? Is there a possibility that the biosimilar can be reduced back to the ranks of ordinary biosimilars?

These are important questions. Only after we have a biosimilar  designated as interchangeable will we be able to broach this question. However, it does perhaps give the reference drug maker a line of defense in sparing loss of marketshare.

With Higher Prices, the Need to Promote Longer-Term Value of Pharmaceuticals

The keynote session at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy’s Nexus meeting this week aired notes of resistance and denial, resignation, and acceptance. This may sound familiar, especialAMCP logoly if frustration was substituted for actual grief, and closely reflects the process for dealing with the death of a close friend or relative. In this case, one could say that the dearly departed is pharmaceutical pricing rationality.

The panel discussion was in many ways a eulogy. Alan Weil, Editor-in-Chief, Health Affairs, moderated the service. The chief question at hand was whether we are willing or able to pay for innovative therapies that may cost a half-million dollars or more? Mr. Weil pointed out that apart from their cost, these new therapies (e.g., CAR-T) “fit poorly into our current payment model.”

Steve Miller, MD, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Express Scripts, said that the answer is no. We are apparently not willing to pay for them, based on the hepatitis C treatment paradigm today. He noted that the antiviral treatments available today are highly curative. “Although hepatitis C treatments have come down in price, we, as a society, do not pay. We’ve treated only one third of the patients so far. And now, we’re challenged with a $1 million treatment. We need to change our mindset.”

Jane Barlow, MD, MPH, MBA, Senior Advisor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Biomedical Innovation, countered that in the end, “We will pay. The patients want these innovations. The question is really the sustainability.”

J.D. Kleinke, Medical Economist, agreed, saying that “We as a country demand access, and we demand progress. People will sue for it, have bake sales for it, to force the system to pay for it.”

“If the hepatitis C vaccine cost originally $10,000 per month and it was to be taken chronically, people would not worry much about paying for treatment, said Robert DuBois, Chief Medical Officer, National Pharmaceutical Council. The original price tag of $84,000 for a limited treatment course, however, did set a firestorm of controversy.

There also seems to be a different reaction when speaking to payers one to one, according to Dr. Barlow. She said that in private conversations, payers express less concern than in groups [or in the press]. “When we say we’re spending too much, we seem to be spending more,” she said.

Web image 1With new gene therapies and immunologic approaches, the pricing models and relatively few people treated will force payers and purchasers to take a different evaluation approach to value, said Dr. Kleinke. This may involve a longer view towards future productivity or “value capture.” With this concept, if a drug company charges $100,000 for an intervention that helps produce $1 million in productivity or additional benefit, the drug “captures” 10% of the value of the transaction.

Perhaps our ability to pay for them is a very different question. Until now, pharmaceutical pricing could be explained relative to other similar therapies or compared with the likely costs of future care avoided. It may be that future productivity gained, rather than medical costs avoided, may be a better framework for evaluating the pricing of these next generation interventions.

Budgeting the Impact of Inflectra and a Possible Clinical Benefit for Amjevita

Although the biosimilar marketplace is fairly stagnant at the moment, there was plenty of action at this week’s annual meeting of the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy held in Denver, March 27–30.

Calculating the Breakeven Point for a Health System

A poster presentation from the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy discussed the budget impact of adding biosimilar infliximab (Inflectra®) to the formulary of a model health system.

In this presentation, the researchers assumed the health system had 1,000 patients taking infliximab; of these, 400 were new prescription starts for the biosimilar’s rheumatology and gastroenterological indications, and the rest were receiving maintenance therapy on the originator product Remicade®. The model assumed 3 levels of discounting on Remicade: 10%, 15%, and 20%. They assumed that 60% of patients with a gastrointestinal indication would start on Remicade, and 40% of new start patients would be given Inflectra. At a new start and maintenance price of $20,430 for the biosimilar, they calculate a breakeven point of 15% discount for Remicade to keep only the originator on formulary.

If they assumed that the biosimilar was given not only to new starts but also to 50% of patients initially receiving Remicade , the breakeven discounting point for keeping Remicade only on the formulary becomes far greater. This model is somewhat conservative, because it assumes no further discounting by Pfizer for its biosimilar product. However, it also does not consider additional levels of rebating by Janssen Biotech.

A Biosimilar’s Noneconomic Benefit?

Although biosimilar manufacturers are constrained in the respect that their product has to not only mirror the structure and clinical effect of the originator biologic, it also cannot be produced in a more convenient form of administration (autoinjector vs. vial/syringe). The expectation is that the biosimilar will not be superior in any way to the originator. In a second poster presentation, Amgen researchers disputed this assertion with their biosimilar version of adalimumab. According to their findings, Amjevita® was associated with less injection-site pain compared with Humira®, based on pain scores given by clinical trial patients with moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. They found that pain site scores (based on a 100-mm visual analogue scale) were significantly lower at each 4-week office visit for the biosimilar.

The researchers theorize that the reason for the benefit may be the different excipients used in the biosimilar versus the originator drug.

Will the Final Guidance on Biosimilar Naming Be Reversed?

Judging from the comments at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy’s (AMCP’s) annual meeting March 27–30 in Denver, there is some hope and expectation that the Trump Administration will review and possibly revoke the naming convention for biologics and biosimilars that was finalized just recently.

The Academy’s position on the naming convention has not changed, according to Mary Jo Carden, VP of Government and Pharmacy Affairs. She characterized the naming convention chosen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as unnecessary and confusing. Therefore, AMCP is still in favor of using the government-approved name and international nonproprietary name to biosimilars (and no new suffixes to existing originator products). In previous comments to the FDA, the Academy wrote, “AMCP supports a biosimilar naming convention using the same INN that has proven safe and effective globally for small molecule drugs and for biological products in Europe, and therefore it should be the standard in the United States. Using the same INN for biosimilars would also alleviate the need for multiple product identifiers in biosimilar labeling and therefore eliminate the potential for confusion by health care providers and patients.”

Doug Long, MBA, VP of Industry Relations at QuintilesIMS, in answer to a question from the audience, said he “might mention it to Scott Gottlieb,” newly nominated FDA Commissioner, to revisit it after his confirmation. Image result for Doug Long IMSEspecially in light of the present administration’s statements to streamline the drug approval process and improve public access to less-expensive medications, this would seem to make sense. Mr. Long also said that he had difficulty fathoming the reasons behind the decision making on biosimilar naming.

Drug consultant C. Douglas Monroe, RPh, MS, pointed out that there is hope. The Office of Management and Budget has asked the FDA to postpone implementation, and public comments from numerous organizations railed against the policy. Mr. Monroe cited publisher Wolters Kluwer as saying that the “…FDA’s proposed naming approach is a solution in search of a problem.” And several organizations, such as NCPDP and drug manufacturers, complained of the time and billions in cost of applying suffixes to all existing biologics.

Although it may be appealing for the Trump Administration to simply scrap the existing final guidance on naming. If they do not simply revert to the basic INN nomenclature for biologics, do we really want to start the entire process of considering a new system from scratch again?