Udenyca to Launch January 3, Same WAC as Mylan’s Fulphila

Coherus Biosciences surprised many on its third-quarter earnings call late yesterday. It will rely not on a lower price than its biosimilar competitor to gain marketshare after Coherus’ Udenyca launch, but on its ability to pull through on its patient and provider services and supply chain to gain significant marketshare for its biosimilar version of Neulasta®.

This is not to imply that Coherus will not offer contracts to group purchasing organizations (GPOs), hospitals, and payers.  The company intends to do so. However, the wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) for Udenyca® will match that of Mylan’s Fulphila®—$4,175 per vial, or a 33% discount from Amgen’s reference product. Denny Lanfear, CEO of Coherus added that the company’s contracting plans “will deliver additional value to payers.”

Jim Hassard, Coherus

AWAITING HCPCS CODING

Unlike other biosimilar manufacturers, this is their first product to reach the market. Not only was manufacturing and production a priority, but company infrastructure had to be ready for launch. Although Coherus pointed out that the sales force for Coherus is fully in place, they are holding back the Udenyca launch until the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) designates a Q code for claims and billing purposes. Therefore, the goal is a Udenyca launch date of January 3, 2019.

Jim Hassard, Vice President for Marketing and Market Access, emphasized that “Our overall launch strategy goes beyond pricing, to reliable supply and services. We’re committed to world-class execution and salesforce effectiveness.” The company’s Coherus Complete, patient and provider service site, is operational, and this will include copay support for eligible patients. Mr. Hassard stated, “This price is attractive to payers without diminishing our value proposition. We can deliver significant savings to the health system versus Neulasta.”Coherus Biosciences

CAN UDENYCA GRAB SOME ONPRO MARKETSHARE?

One interesting statement made during the call was the expectation that Coherus will go after some of Neulasta Onpro’s share of the market. Amgen’s on-body injector accounts for about 60% of all Neulasta utilization today, “but this growth has flattened out,” Chris Thompson, Vice President of Sales, emphasized. “We’re looking at the whole market, not just prefilled syringe market,” he said. “We think we’ll be able to sell through the Onpro market,” meaning that their pricing and services will attract some of this marketshare. In fact, Coherus executives believe that biosimilars may eventually garner nearly 70% of the pegfilgrastim market.

Coherus believes that there is pent-up demand for the biosimilar in the hospital segment today, which is why GPOs may represent promising contracting opportunities. They are seeking parity positioning at the payer and pharmacy benefit manager level.

This sounds fairly reasonable. Yet the vast majority of biosimilar consultants and payers with whom I had communicated had anticipated that Coherus would launch with at least a modest WAC discount relative to Mylan’s Fulphila. On the conference call, the investment banking participants wanting information on the Udenyca launch seemed caught off guard as well.

UDENYCA REVENUE TO SUPPORT COHERUS FOR NOW

Perhaps this strategy gives Coherus ample room for contracting while retaining a respectable net cost. Mr. Thompson said, “We’ll roll out a comprehensive contracting strategy for GPOs in the next week or two. It will be competitive and designed to win.”

It may need to be. Relying on better services and perhaps even a better supply chain (albeit one that is brand new) may not be sufficiently persuasive to hospital and payer P&T Committees. And Coherus needs to generate revenue from its sole product to feed its new sales team, new product development, and hungry investors.

Coherus Gets FDA Approval for Its Pegfilgrastim Biosimilar

With the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval today of Coherus Bioscience’s Udenyca™ (pegfilgrastim-cbqv), the second pegfilgrastim to compete with Amgen’s Neulasta®, much attention will be now focused on the company’s November 8 earning call.

The FDA approved Udenyca on the basis of a supportive analytical similarity package, but with phase 1 data only. Over 600 healthy subjects were given the agent to test its pharmacokinetic, pharmacodynamic, and immunogenicity safety.

We should learn a great deal by the end of the week about the nature of the competition for the injectable pegfilgrastim marketplace into 2019. In the press release announcing the approval, the company said it will reveal its launch plans, including pricing, during its week’s call. On Monday, November 5, we should hear the first information about whether Mylan’s first-to-market entry, Fulphila®, has gained some traction against the injectable form of Neulasta. Mylan launched Fulphila at the end of July.

In a previous post, we discussed how Amgen’s Neulasta Onpro® patch has already captured upwards of 80% of the pegfilgrastim business. Because of the convenience of the patch formulation, it would be surprising if Onpro’s share of market eroded significantly. However, Amgen must ensure that the net cost difference between the biosimilars and Neulasta Onpro is not noteworthy. Otherwise, payers’ can be expected to try to disadvantage Onpro through step edits or greater patient cost sharing. That would take a sizable bite out of Amgen’s large slice of the $4 billion pegfilgrastim pie.

The FDA approved Udenyca for the following indication: to decrease the incidence of infection, as manifested by febrile neutropenia, in patients with non-myeloid malignancies receiving myelosuppressive anti-cancer drugs associated with a clinically significant incidence of febrile neutropenia. It was not approved for the mobilization of peripheral blood progenitor cells for hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. This indication language does not differ from that for Fulphila. Neulasta has the additional indication of increasing survival in patients acutely exposed to myelosuppressive doses of radiation.

Undenyca was also approved for sale in the EU, although Coherus has not launched there, awaiting a marketing partner.

Tidal Wave of Pegfilgrastim Biosimilars About to Hit Europe

We had mentioned the upcoming deluge of adalimumab biosimilars aiming to hit the European market in mid-October, but another biosimilar tidal wave may actually precede this.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has had an extremely busy week in the pegfilgrastim biosimilars arena. In addition to granting marketing authorization to Coherus Biosciences for its pegfilgrastim biosimilar, it has also approved the marketing of Pelgraz®, a pegfilgrastim produced by Accord Healthcare. In addition, the EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use has also recommended approval for three pegfilgrastim biosimilars—from Sandoz, Cinfa, and Mylan.

Mylan is the only drug maker with a marketed biosimilar version of pegfilgrastim in the United States. Its product Fulphila® hit the US market in early July. Coherus’ product, Udenyca™, is awaiting a November 2 decision from the Food and Drug Administration. Coherus is reportedly looking for a partner to market its pegfilgrastim biosimilar overseas, while it intends to market the product internally in the US. This means that Accord may have the first pegfilgrastim biosimilar to reach patients in the EU, though this advantage will be short lived should Mylan in particular gain approval.

In other biosimilar news…Boehringer Ingelheim announced positive results in its clinical study of Cylteza® versus Humira® in patients with moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis. The study results were announced at the European Society of Dermatology and Venereology.

Samsung Bioepis Co., Ltd. announced that the FDA has accepted its 351(k) application for SB5, a biosimilar to adalimumab. Samsung is the fourth manufacturer seeking to enter the biosimilar market for Humira. Two have been approved (Amjevita® by Amgen and Cyltezo® by Boehringer Ingelheim) but are not yet marketed. A decision on Sandoz’s application is expected later this year.

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.

Mylan and Biocon Land First Pegfilgrastim Biosimilar Approval

The race to bring a pegfilgrastim biosimilar to market officially started on December 17, 2014. The checkered flag fluttered 3½ years later on June 4, 2018, with the Mylan/Biocon team winning on a slow track. The partners earned approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), becoming the first biosimilar to challenge for this $4 billion market.

Mylan will market the product in the US, and it is assumed that the product will be launched shortly,= to take advantage of their window of opportunity. The drug will be called Fulphila™, and the FDA assigned a formal name of pegfilgrastim-jmdb. The next likely competitor, Coherus, is expected to receive word from the FDA by November 2. Mylan will have the chance to quickly grab marketshare if they produce attractive deals for payers.

What Is the Biosimilar Pegfilgrastim Market Opportunity?

We’ve covered the contest to bring a biosimilar pegfilgrastim to market, with considerable depth. The progress and setbacks of Mylan/Biocon, Coherus Biosciences, Sandoz, and Apotex have been tracked. Other drug makers are also working on plans towards 351(k) applications for approval. Eventually—likely sooner than later—one or two will hit the market.

Biosimilar Pegfilgrastim, Neulasta®, and Onpro®

Amgen, maker of the originator product Neulasta®, disclosed in its first-quarter financial report that the total sales for the product in the US is $1.0 billion, $146 million for the rest of the world, for a total of $1.15 billion. This means a US market of approximately $4 billion for one year of sales. Amgen also noted that 62% of its first-quarter Neulasta sales are associated with its Onpro® kit. Although the major patents for pegfilgrastim have expired, Onpro is still protected by patent. Onpro does have some significant advantages in that the patient does not need to go to the doctor’s office for an injection after receiving chemotherapy. The sales figures indicate that doctors prescribe it in preference to the injectable form of pegfilgrastim.

Neulasta OnproAt a current 62% marketshare for Neulasta Onpro, the initial total slice of the pie available for biosimilars may only be $1.5 billion (not considering WAC discounts). If we assume a 20% discount, this may be closer to $1.2 billion. It may not seem logical for Amgen to make great efforts to defend its share of injectable pegfilgrastim because of its successful conversion to Onpro. Also, Onpro does have marketable advantages over the injectable form.

The list price of Neulasta is upwards of $7000 per injection, and Amgen does not charge additionally for the Onpro kit. This stance may prove an incentive to health plans and insurers to not encourage biosimilar use over Onpro.

Will Physicians Resist Moving From Onpro to a Biosimilar Pegfilgrastim Injection?

The $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion estimate also assumes that Amgen cannot convert more patients to Onpro prior to approval of a new biosimilar. That would further shrink the revenue opportunity. Physicians may also resist payer efforts and not prescribe the injectable form if they favor the Onpro kit. To the extent that payers may prefer the biosimilar (or otherwise restrict the use of a more expensive originator agent) when it becomes available, that slice of the pie could increase quite a bit. Furthermore, the picture could also change in a few years as biosimilar manufacturers develop delivery systems that gain the same advantages as Onpro.

In its earnings report, Amgen indicated the sales of Neulasta have been decreasing, by 5% from the same quarter last year. This may be the result of movement to other, less-toxic cancer chemotherapies or other treatments to prevent neutropenia and its related infections.

The Onpro market for the rest of the world may be given a boost soon, as Amgen also announced that the European Medicines Agency issued a positive opinion for the drug maker to include the Onpro Kit in its EU label.

As reported in BR&R, Coherus CEO Denny Lanfear thought the pegfilgrastim market may be split in a manner similar to that for filgrastim (i.e., 30%/30%/40% shares for 2 biosimilar makers and the originator). That may possibly mean 30% of a $1.2 billion US market (not $4 billion), if payers do not emphasize the use of the biosimilar over Onpro.

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.

Coherus Biosciences Shows Major Stock Gain Upon BLA Resubmission

When it received a June 2017 complete response letter from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the outlook for Coherus Biosciences was cloudy. Its lead product, a biosimilar for pegfilgrastim (CHS-1701), had been cited for the way the drug maker evaluated immunogenicity and for manufacturing plant issues. Upon receiving the news, it cut 30% of its workforce.

Furthermore, Coherus has had little luck in challenging the existing patents of originator products. It was denied inter partes review on a key patent held by Abbvie on Humira® as well as a patent on Enbrel® by Amgen.

Today, Coherus may be on the verge of a turnaround in fortunes

Armed with new immunogenicity data, Coherus resubmitted its 351(k) application with the FDA on May 3, and investors reacted strongly to its new prospects. The company’s stock price soared 17.3% for the dCoherus Biosciencesay, closing at $14.90. Its previous 52-week low was $8.05. Coherus is a U.S. manufacturer that is focused solely on biosimilar development (a “pure-play” biosimilar maker).

In the company’s announcement, Coherus reported that the new FDA application is “supported by similarity data from analytical, pharmacokinetic, pharmacodynamics, and immunogenicity studies comparing CHS-1701 and Neulasta and integrates new immunogenicity data obtained from using a more revised immunogenicity assay.” Mr. Lanfear said, “The CHS-1701 BLA resubmission marks a significant milestone in our ongoing transition to a commercial company as we tightly focus on execution of our strategic plan.”

In April, Coherus filed for a rehearing of the etanercept inter partes review.

Coherus originally filed its pegfilgrastim biosimilar application with the European Medicines Agency November 29, 2016. According to a report from early in 2018, Chief Executive Officer Denny Lanfear asserted that he hoped to receive EMA approval in the second half of 2018.

Coherus Readying to Resubmit Its Pegfilgrastim Application

News about Coherus Biosciences has been limited since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected its initial application for a pegfilgrastim biosimilar last June. However, at this year’s JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, Coherus issued some positive signs of progress.

According to Dennis Lanfear, Chief Executive Officer, the company is getting ready to resubmit its 351(k) application for pegfilgrastim (CHS-1701). The FDA had cited worries about immunogenicity of the agent and specifically with Coherus’ assay to evaluate immunogenicity in its complete response letter, along with potential manufacturing plant problems.

Mr. Lanfear believes that resubmission in the first quarter of this year will yield an FDA decision before the fourth quarter. In addition, Coherus is hoping to receive European Medicines Agency marketing approval prior to this timeframe.

Coherus still has other prospects in the biosimilar arena: Its version of adalimumab is subject to patent litigation (of course), but it should receive a decision on its inter parties review motion regarding its etanercept biosimilar in March of this year.

These would be very hopeful signs after the company’s poor fortunes in 2016 and 2017. It lost its marketing partner in Baxalta (then Shire), and after receiving the FDA rejection on pegfilgrastim last year, it had cut its workforce by 30%.

The FDA Rejects Mylan/Biocon’s Pegfilgrastim; Market Still Awaits a Biosimilar for Neulasta

In the latest blow to those seeking an alternative to Amgen’s Neulasta®, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a complete response letter to Biocon, citing manufacturing plant deficiencies, in its rejection of their biosimilar pegfilgrastim application.

Announced on October 10, this is the second biosimilar from Indian manufacturer Biocon that has been detoured by manufacturing plant problems. Its Bangalore plant, where the partners’ biosimilar trastuzumab was to be manufactured, was also cited earlier this year.

In August, Biocon and its marketing partner Mylan withdrew its European Medicines Agency applications for pegfilgrastim and trastuzumab after receiving negative reports on its manufacturing facility.

This is the second FDA biosimilar rejection relating to plant deficiencies. In June, the agency issued a complete response letter to Pfizer, resulting from a legacy Hospira plant in Kansas.

In the press release announcing the latest setback to its pegfilgrastim biosimilar, Biocon said that the complete response letter relates to “facility requalification activities post recent plant modifications. The CRL did not raise any questions on biosimilarity, pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic data, clinical data or immunogenicity.”

Biocon also stated that “We do not expect this [complete response letter] to impact the commercial launch timing of biosimilar pegfilgrastim in the US.” Although Mylan and Biocon had not publicly announced an intended launch date once it received approval, Amgen’s principal patents for Neulasta have expired. One might have expected a relatively quick launch of its biosimilar, considering the 180-day postlaunch exclusivity period no longer exists and the possibility of other players in the market, including Coherus, Pfizer, and Apotex (all of whom received complete response letters).