Is Celltrion Paving a New Road for Biosimilars? A New Route of Administration Being Tested for Infliximab

When payers, patients, or physicians discuss biosimilars, they assume that the biosimilar works just like the reference product. They also assume that the biosimilar is administered in the same way as the originator biologic. Celltrion is actively researching a new subcutaneous infliximab. This could result in a first for the biosimilar industry.

Sponsored by Celltrion and conducted in multiple sites, the research results were announced at the annual meeting of the European Congress of Rheumatology in June. The investigators presented outcomes data on the use of a subcutaneous (SC) form of infliximab-dyyb. Currently, infliximab is only available as an intravenous (IV) infusion at the physician’s office that takes at least 2 hours. Subcutaneous infliximab was given on a biweekly basis.

subcutaneous infliximabThe researchers studied 48 patients with rheumatoid arthritis, finding that outcomes were not clinically different through 30 weeks of follow-up. Three dosages were tested, and in this small study, no ACR20 differences were reported in any subgroup receiving infliximab infusions or SC injections.

Hypersensitivity reactions did occur in one patient each receiving the lowest dose (90 mg) SC and the middle dose (120 mg). None were seen in the group receiving the highest infliximab SC dose (180 mg). Injection site reactions occurred in two patients apiece in the 90 mg and 180 mg dose cohorts. receiving subcutaneous infliximab. The formation of antidrug antibodies was detected in nine patients receiving the standard infusion, but less than half that number in each of the subcutaneous groups.

Currently, infliximab treatment requires a lengthy office visit for each infusion (every 8 wk in the maintenance phase). It is one of the key limiting factors to its use. A self-injectable formulation should result in lower administration costs, and the potential for covering the agent through the pharmacy benefit.

A phase 1, open-label trial of subcutaneous infliximab has already been conducted by Celltrion in patients with Crohn’s disease. That trial found similar outcomes between the SC and IV formulations. Another phase 1 trial is wrapping up, this one evaluating safety and pharmacokinetics in healthy volunteers. Celltrion is also sponsoring a phase 3 trial of more than 300 patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Preliminary results will not be available until December 2018.

It is not yet clear, however, what type of data the Food and Drug Administration would require for approval of a new formulation of a biosimilar. The regulatory agency may decide to treat this as it would a new route of administration for any approved product, which would focus on pharmacokinetic and pharmacology factors. Celltrion seems to be covering all of its bases.

Two Dynamics That May Drive Biosimilar Pricing Discounts

(Published February 16, 2016)

While the Food and Drug Administration mulls its Arthritis Advisory Committee’s 21-3 vote to approve Celltrion’s CT-P13 biosimilar to infliximab (Enbrel®, Amgen), payers have time to consider what Celltrion’s launch may mean for their specialty pharmacy budget. This may not be known for some time, especially if one considers that the price of the reference product and biosimilar may fluctuate through a contracting cycle or two. Let’s contemplate 2 areas that can affect how we view contracting/pricing quite a bit.

First, if the biosimilar manufacturer launches its new product at a 15% discount (as Sandoz did in launching the first biosimilar Zarxio® in 2015), what will be the reaction of the innovator’s manufacturer? Will they meet that price? Will they increase their rebates to compensate and to retain as much marketshare as possible? If this happens, will the biosimilar manufacturer, knowing payers are seeking the lowest possible price, drop their price/increase their rebates another 10%? Another aspect is that Amgen may feel that its principal hospital business for Neupogen is less threatened by Zarxio. This “contracting dance” may be played out over months or years.

Second, pharmaceutical companies have been known to raise thWeb image 2eir prices in anticipation of new generic drug competition, trying to maximize rev
enue from the product before the insurers and health plans inevitably switch to generic coverage. This same scenario may be playing out in the biologic space today. Based on information courtesy of the Elsevier Gold Standard Drug Database, Amgen has been hiking the price of Enbrel impressively over the past 2 years:

  • June 2014: 6.9%
  • November 2014: 7.9%
  • May 2015: 9.9%
  • December 2015: 7.9%

Although these actions may have been taken by Amgen in part to mai
ntain revenue in the face of falling prescription volume, the price of Enbrel has jumped 36.7% in less than 2 years. So, if Pfizer and Celltrion roll out their biosimilar version of infliximab at even a considerable 25% discount, this means that plans will not be saving but spending approximately 10% more compared with the May 2014 price. About the best thing that can be said, in this scenario, is that they will now have a guard against future price hikes.

Teva’s Syprine Generic Priced 14% Below Jacked Up Valeant Product Price

In an announcement that surprised few, Teva Pharmaceuticals announced that its generic version of trientine hydrochloride (Syprine®) for the treatment of Wilson’s disease will be sold for a very nongeneric price. Also unsurprising, Teva executives did not address the fact that the price of Syprine had been jacked up astronomically by Valeant Pharmaceuticals only recently, to $21,267 in 2015 froTeva Pharmaceuticals, maker of the new generic for Syprinem a mere $652 in 2010. Also, Syprine had been available since 1969.

An outrage? Yes of course, but not surprising for a number of reasons. Wilson’s disease is an extremely rare disease, on the order of 5,000 patients. At a price of $652 per person, the resulting revenue might be a paltry $3.2 million.

In preparation for launch, Teva evidently looked at its options for discounts based on the current list price, not the pricing from several years ago. This is also unsurprising. However, the discount offered is not great—$18,375 for a bottle of 100 pills.

Wilson’s disease is the result of a genetic disorder of the liver that causes hepatic cells to accumulate and store excess copper. The disease impairs the liver’s ability to excrete copper into the bile and then into the gastrointestinal tract. The copper build-up is toxic to the liver, and can cause cirrhosis and death. Ordinarily treated with d-pencillamine, patients can be intolerant to it and require additional therapy, such as trientine.

As most payers know, generic pricing today is unlike generic pricing of the past. Even relatively simple compounds, available for decades, are subject to competitive forces like number of mBiosimilars news, reviews, and reportsanufacturers and supply. However, demand seems to be the one market force that is not in play. With so few potential patients, overall demand would seem low, particularly with pencillamine already available to treat patients.

Teva’s pricing could have reflected the reality of 2010 or the reality of 2018. The company chose the latter, which so many others would also do today. If an additional generic was introduced into the market dynamic (though unlikely due to the demand), pricing (or at least net costs) could be strongly affected.

Payers hope to see this dynamic play out in the biosimilars arena as well. With a single biosimilar agent competing against the reference product, the retail cost discounts have been small. But with the introduction of additional competition, net costs (if not wholesale average costs) will fall rapidly.

Pfizer US Biosimilar Revenues Growing Slowly, Better News Internationally

According to an article posted on the Market Realist website, Pfizer’s US and global biosimilars revenues are growing, but its sales of Inflectra® remainPfizer Headquarters stunted.

In the fourth-quarter of 2017, the New York–based company posted US biosimilar revenues of $44 million—all attributable to its infliximab biosimilar. The product was launched in Q4 2016 (and gained only $4 million in revenues), but the revenue was reported to be somewhat higher than in Q3 2017. Total 2017 Inflectra revenue was $118 million.

Internationally, where Pfizer not only markets Inflectra, but its Retacrit® form of epoetin alpha and its Nivestim® brand of filgrastim, biosimilars contributed $531 million to the bottom line in 2017, an increase of 37% compared to the previous year.

There is little doubt that Pfizer’s US Inflectra revenues will continue to increase, but competition from Samsung/Merck’s Renflexis® and Janssen Biotech’s continuing heavy rebates on Remicade® should prove challenging to Pfizer. Merck has not yet reported its Q3 or Q4 sales of Renflexis, which was only launched in July 2017.

Pfizer’s second US biosimilar approval was also for an infliximab biosimilar (a legacy product from its Hospira acquisition). This agent, infliximab-qbtx, dubbed Ixifi™, was approved in December 2017 and will apparently not be launched in the US.

 

Its next big splash into the US biosimilars market may not occur in 2018. Its rituximab biosimilar (PF-05280586) met its primary outcomes measures in a phase 3 trial, as announced in January, but no target date has been yet reported for its 351(k) application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, this product may face stiff competition from Celltrion and Sandoz for their rituximab biosimilars currently being reviewed by the FDA. Celltrion is partnered with Mylan (not Pfizer) in the commercialization of its rituximab biosimilar.

Fourth Herceptin® Biosimilar Being Evaluated by FDA

The end of 2017 has been bustling with oncology biosimilar news.

On December 20, 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accepted Samsung Bioepis’ application for SB3, its biosimilar version of trastuzumab. The drug would be the fourth to undergo evaluation by the FDA, and may pack on the pressure for Mylan and Biocon’s product Ogivri, which is the only approved biosimilar trastuzumab.

Mylan/Biocon’s biosimilar was approved earlier this month. As a reminder, though, there are no plans to bring their version of trastuzumab to market immediately. Indications are that Breast Cancerowing to an agreement with Roche, they may not launch until 2019 (at the earliest). Trastuzumab biosimilar entries by Celltrion and Amgen/Allergan will not receive FDA decisions until the second quarter of next year. It is unclear whether these manufacturers will decide to launch their versions at risk, thus stealing the initiative from Mylan and its partner. In any case, competition should be vigorous when these products launch (which should be within 12 months of the first launch, assuming FDA approvals). At present, the question is open as to whether Samsung will market SB3 if it receives a positive decision sometime in the fourth quarter of 2018.

In related news…A survey of 200 oncologists revealed that their comfort levels with prescribing biosimilars is widespread. Cardinal Health published a report based on the survey on December 20.

Although these result may relate to oncologists’ multiyear experience with Zarxio® (filgrastim), 82% of the oncologists responding to the survey specifically indicated that they would have no qualms about using biosimilars to treat patients with breast cancer in an adjuvant setting or if they had metastatic disease. As indicated above, no biosimilars are currently marketed for this indication. Furthermore, they expect significant cost savings when using biosimilars: Two thirds said that cost savings with biosimilars are either extremely or very important in their prescribing decision. That’s pretty much the point of biosimilars, isn’t it?

Sandoz’s Pegfilgrastim Biosimilar Under New Review at EMA

On October 27, Sandoz announced that the European Medicines Agency has accepted its re-application for review of its biosimilar version of Neulasta® as supportive treatment in patients receiving cytotoxic chemotherapy.

PrintSandoz’s attempt to bring its biosimilar pegfilgrastim to the market was stalled in the US in Q2 2016, when the FDA issued a complete response letter. It had withdrawn its application to the European Medicines Agency in January 2017. However, the new application seems to be bolstered by additional data, according to reports.

Sandoz is expecting to reapply to the FDA in 2019, according to its website.

As noted too often in this space, the journey to approval for a pegfilgrastim biosimilar has been marked by failure and setbacks. However, as shown in the Figure from the MarketRealist, revenues for Neulasta are considerably larger than that for its nonpegylated progenitor, Neulasta (filgrastim). This is a powerful impetus for potential biosimilar manufacturers to succeed. At close to $5 billion in annual revenues, there is little reason to think that a biosimilar pegfilgrastim will not be approved eventually.

Market Realist.png

Source: The Market Realist.

In other news… AbbVie expects its Humira sales to jump to $21 billion by 2020 from $16 billion today, evidently bolstered by its successful defense of its patents against Amgen.

Can Biosimilars Be Protected By Patent?

In going through my files, I came across an article from last year that asks a very basic but critical intellectual property (IP) question: “Are biosimilars patentable?” Sounds like a simple question, right? Well, the answer may not be straightforward, and relate to another question: “Exactly how different are they?”

In developing generic drugs, drug makers don’t seek to change the manufacturing process—they are attempting to provide an exact duplicate of the branded agent. This helps ensure that their product receives bioequivalency to the branded drug and an AB rating. Biosimilar agents are known to be inexact copies of the innovator product, and this can be the result of using a different cell line to produce the compound, or different processes to create a similar batch of biologic proteins or fragments. It would then make sense that biosimilar manufacturers would want to patent their proprietary process for manufacturing the drug, if it is in fact different than that used to create the originator biologic.

The authors, from a Toronto, Canada law firm, the University of Toronto, and an investment organization that promotes health innovation, point out that “the possibility that a biosimilar product could have meaningful patent protection arises from specific requirements for biosimilarity under the BPCIA, which account for the fact that manufacturing processes of biologics are inherently imprecise.”

They state, “The requirements for biosimilar approval may provide sufficient leeway to a biosimilar applicant to patent structural or formulation differences that provide non-clinical but business-relevant advantages over the reference molecule, such as improved shelf-life or ease of manufacture, without compromising clinical biosimilarity.”

Based on this analysis, it seems logical that a biosimilar manufacturing process should be patentable in its own right. This could pose a defense against other biosimilar developers. However, with so much patent litigation between originator and biosimilar manufacturers, could this add even more to lawsuits in defense of IP?

Inflectra Sales Lagging for Pfizer in Second Quarter

Pfizer announced some disappointing results for the second quarter in its quest to advance a foothold in the biosimilar market. The second-quarter results hinted at more difficulties to come for the Inflectra® brand, with the most recent launch of Merck’s Renflexis®.

Amid somewhat positive signs with group purchasing organizations, which supply hospitals and health systems, commercial health plans have lagged in covering the product. On the earnings call, John Young, Pfizer’s Group President for Pfizer Essential Health, said that in the second quarter, “our Inflectra share was 2.3% of the overall infliximab volume,” including both patients who had not used infliximab before and those who switched to Inflectra. The total US revenue for the quarter was only $23 million. In Europe, sales were $94 million—better but not yet gaining the penetration of other biosimilars in the EU.

The 15% discounting strategy may have limited uptake by US health plans and insurers to date, but Janssen’s actions to defend marketshare have no doubt been effective. Pfizer’s most recent price drop, coinciding roughly with the launch of Merck’s (and Samsung Bioepis’) infliximab biosimilar, will likely muddy this picture in the near term.

Overall, Pfizer’s revenue decreased by 2% (to $12.9 billion) compared with the second quarter of 2016. This is not terrible, considering that its European revenues from Enbrel® (etanercept) continue to be under siege from biosimilars, dropping 20% compared with Q2 2016.

Pfizer’s pipeline remains robust, however, with 8 biosimilars in the works, including 4 in phase 3 trials. Its epoetin alfa product Retacrit® had been rejected by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because of potential manufacturing concerns. The second-quarter financial report did not update its progress in discussions with FDA.

Two New Trastuzumab Biosimilars Submitted for FDA Approval

The team of Mylan and Biocon may have some company in the biosimilar competition for Herceptin® (trastuzumab). Two additional partnerships announced the filing of their 351(k) applications for trastuzumab biosimilars.

Amgen and Allergan are hoping ABP 980 will have smooth sailing through the approval system. The phase 3 study in patients with early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer was completed in January 2017, with study results reported in July 2016. This study enrolled 725 patients, and yielded positive results in terms of safety, efficacy, and similarity to the originator product.

Celltrion submitted their product application for CT-P6 (Herzuma™) to the FDA on July 30 as well. Its partner Teva will distribute and market the product in the US, upon approval. The phase 3 study for this product is ongoing, but the results of the primary outcome data from 549 patients were published in June 2017. The outcomes were found to be similar to those of Herceptin.

Mylan and Biocon had submitted their biosimilar version on November 1, 2016. The FDA Advisory Committee reviewing their product gave it their unanimous support on July 13, and the final FDA decision is expected by September 3, 2017. If approved, Mylan will have at least a 9-month time advantage to get their foot in the door of a $2.6 billion trastuzumab marketplace.

This sets up a very interesting pricing dynamic. I had originally thought that this scenario might occur first with adalimumab after the patent litigation was resolved, but it is very possible that multiple biosimilars for trastuzumab may be launched first and in a very short timeframe.

Assuming Mylan gets the nod from FDA first, they have a couple of obvious paths they can travel: (1) launch with a substantial discount in an attempt to capture as much marketshare as possible before the other market entrants arrive or (2) launch with a modest (but attractive) discount in an effort to maximize their revenue while their product remains the sole biosimilar available. It will then be a guessing game as to how Amgen/Allergan and Celltrion/Teva play their turns in this poker game. With sudden market competition, such as their launches could potentially pose, payers may play a bit of a waiting game themselves, to see where the chips fall.

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.