Coherus Biosciences Reaffirms Its Pegfilgrastim Biosimilar Hopes

Coherus Biosciences expects to have an approval decision on its pegfilgrastim biosimilar from the Food and Drug Administration by November 3, 2018. On a quarterly investor call on May 10, Chief Executive Officer Denny Lanfear also related that an approval decision from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on this product is expected by June 28, 2018. “In the meantime, he said, we will continue building product inventory and establishing our commercial infrastructure to ensure a successful product launch.”

Biosimilars Review & Report; BR&R; pegfilgrastim biosimilarsThe conference call highlighted several notable items, including a distinct focus on the US market over the EU, primarily because of the latter’s reliance on a tender system. James Hassard, Senior Vice President, Market Access, explained that the tender system magnifies the competitive nature of biosimilar pricing. Individual countries, he said, because of their specific systems and environments can still be attractive. Mr. Hassard pointed to Scandinavia as a potential European target.

In addition, Mr. Lanfear noted that the $4 billion US market for pegfilgrastim in the US is far larger than that in Europe (< $1 billion). As a result, Coherus will likely seek a partner to help commercialize its biosimilars outside of the US, while tackling the American market itself.

The executives announced another hopeful sign for actual approval of CHS-1701—the FDA and EMA have already passed preapproval inspections of the manufacturing facilities. This could address some of the issues that have tripped up other biosimilar drug makers.

Mr. Hassard believes that Mylan will also receive approval for its delayed pegfilgrastim biosimilar around the same time as Coherus. Rather than plan for a first-to-market launch, he said they were anticipating a launch in a competitive space. “There’s a great deal of room for both us and multiple players. Our plans have always incorporated multiple players. A good example is Zarxio® and Granix®,” he said. “They’ve experienced significant success and have taken about 30% market share each.,” he said. Nonetheless, “We have plans in place to enable us to meet that level of demand even if we are the only biosimilar on the market.”

In addition, Coherus reported progress on the phase 3 clinical development of its adalimumab (CHS-1420) and etanercept (CHS-0214) biosimilars, although timing of its 351(k) submissions are not anticipated soon. The company pointed to extended patent life (adalimumab and etanercept) and lack of commercialization partners (etanercept) for delaying these filings.

A Difficult Road Ahead for a “Pure-Play” Biosimilar Maker

On May 30, 2016, I wrote a profile on Coherus Biosciences for the Center for Biosimilars. Based in Redwood City, California, Coherus was founded in 2010 to solely focus on the development and commercialization of biosimilar agents. It does not have any agreements to manufacture or license existing approved products. The firm refers to itself as a “pure-play biosimilar platform company.”

Like several other biosimilar makers, it paired up with marketing partners on particular products outside the US, but it reserved its US commercialization for itself.

Fourteen months ago, which can seem like another age in terms of biosimilars, Coherus had extremely positive prospects. It had a deal with Baxalta to market its late-stage adalimumab biosimilar (CHS-0214) in Europe, Canada, and Brazil and with Daiichi Sankyo to market this agent in Asia. Its version of pegfilgrastim (CHS-1701) was nearing FDA application, and its phase 3 clinical studies on etanercept were yielding good results in rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. Coherus had a victory under its belt in the continuing patent battle with Abbvie over Humira®. Finally, it had just announced that it would be adding ranibizumab (CHS-3351) and bevacizumaba (CHS-5217) to its biosimilar pipeline. According to the company, it had more than $400 million available to complete its pegfilgrastim FDA application and its ongoing clinical studies for the biosimilar candidates.

Coherus Logo

That was then. In 2016, Shire, which acquired Baxalta, announced that it was returning its marketing rights to the adalimumab biosimilar to focus on rare diseases. As announced in the past week, Coherus laid off 30% of its workforce (51 employees) and lost Daiichi Sankyo as a marketing partner on its etanercept agent, both likely related to FDA’s rejection of its lead biosimilar, pegfilgrastim.

 

 

 

In its March 2017 financial report, Coherus mentions a nonbiosimilar drug candidate for multiple sclerosis in phase 2b studies (CHS-131), which a separate filing indicated that it is seeking another partner to enable the clinical trial program to progress. The latter document indicates that whereas both ranibizumab and bevacizumab are in preclinical development, “Our goal is to advance at least one of these product candidates into clinical trials in 2017.” However, no mention of any of these 3 products are made on Coherus’ product pipeline.

 

Without the ability to utilize revenues from other products to capitalize the biosimilar development and commercialization program, a “pure-play” biosimilar manufacturer is in a precarious position. It is unfortunate that pegfilgrastim was the first Coherus product to reach the approval stage. So far, no other manufacturer (Sandoz or Apotex included) have successfully obtained an approval on pegfilgrastim. In the best case scenario, it may have been able to market pegfilgrastim, which may have provided needed cash if a subsequent product experienced a problem in phase 3 trials or in FDA review. On the other hand, its remaining 2 late-stage products seem promising.

Indeed, it is a difficult road for biosimilar-only manufacturers. Epirus Pharmaceuticals filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in July 2016. One can imagine that with Coherus’ assets and progress, a purchase by a major pharmaceutical player could be in the cards. That might be fortunate for Coherus but unfortunate for the health care delivery stakeholders, including consumers, because new, healthy competition in the pharmaceutical arena is needed. I hope that with a new infusion of capital, Coherus can see it through as a stand-alone manufacturer with approved biosimilars to sell.