Biosimilars and Drug Rebates: A Foot in the Door to Access?

At the September 5–7, 2018 GRx+Biosims meeting, I had the opportunity to moderate a session with three highly experienced biosimilar industry executives. They included Gary Deeb, Senior Vice President, Global Licensing and Business Development, Lupin Pharmaceuticals; Chrys Kokino, MBA, Head Global Biologics— Commercial, Mylan; and Mike Woolcock, MBA, Senior Vice President, Commercial Operations, Apobiologix. In the hour-long session, we covered a range of sticky topics. This post sums up some of the information gained on one aspect—the question of price transparency, recent FDA action to address drug rebates, and whether deemphasizing drug rebates will help biosimilars gain access.

One issue that is getting an awful lot of attention lately is the question of price transparency. This has been highlighted by the difficulties that Pfizer has had in gaining traction for its infliximab biosimilar, resulting in claims of exclusionary contracting by Janssen to protect the latter’s marketshare. One of the principal tools used by the reference biologic manufacturer is its power to rebate. When a drug has the lion’s share of utilization, rebates become very potent inducements to payers to provide or maintain preferred or exclusionary status on formulary. Therefore, the issue of biosimilars and reference drug rebates can be an important one for the industry.

biosimilars and rebatesIn response to the challenges of biosimilars gaining uptake in the US, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has been investigating whether safe harbor laws that currently protect drug rebates from anticompetitive lawsuits can be changed. This move can affect revenues for both pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and payers who share in the rebate monies. It raises a related question, however: Would biosimilar manufacturers be better off competing on list pricing (i.e., wholesale acquisition cost) alone? And does the issue of biosimlars and rebates really matter?

In the backstage green room, this topic generated much discussion among our panelists. And quite frankly, the answer to this question is not yet in.

In previous market research and access projects performed for pharma and their agencies, it has been clear that health plan medical directors and pharmacy directors would prefer competition based on discounted WAC, whereas PBMs prefer to retain their rebate revenue. However, the plans do share in drug rebate revenue to varying extents, which they are quick to point out are helpful in holding down premium increases or funding other projects beneficial to members and patient care. Hence, they are stuck in the rebate trap as well. They are not generally eager to add a new preferred drug even if the manufacturer is offering powerful discount WAC plus competitive rebate; they realize that the rebate revenue is based mostly on how much marketshare the drug maker can gain (and how quickly it can amass marketshare).

The biosimilar industry representatives at our panel discussion were similarly reticent. Does it represent an opportunity to break the exclusionary contracting hold of companies like Janssen? Without high rebates to cement a reference drug’s place as a preferred or the only covered biologic, other manufacturers can get their foot in the door and compete for marketshare based on price alone. This does not mean that prices would necessarily be more transparent, however. One would expect that discounted prices negotiated (from one plan to another or one PBM to another) would differ and remain confidential in nature. In other words, Kaiser Permanente Southern California could still only guess what Blue Shield of California was paying for infliximab and vice versa.

If the average sales price (ASP) methodology were unchanged, one would expect the ASP, which reflects discounts and rebates, to be closer to the WAC price by the amount no longer rebated. But the wild card in this scenario would be the pharmaceutical and PBM industries’ reaction. Is there a way to reclassify rebates as some other payment, like “administrative fees”? Our panelists believe that the PBMs, for example, will not easily forfeit a revenue line representing pure profit, regardless of its size. One would need to anticipate some attempt to retain this revenue.

The issue of biosimilars and drug rebates may only be shifted, in the end. Payers would still want to see the lowest net cost for any product. In 2018, they don’t care too greatly about how this is achieved, through rebates, discounts, portfolio contracts, or other means. If pharmaceutical rebates were deemphasized, my own guess is that at least biosimilar manufacturers would not be disadvantaged once approved, simply because they don’t have any existing marketshare. And it would also test a payer’s fortitude in foregoing its own drug rebate revenue.

Scaling the Mountains to Create a Biosimilar Market Success

One of the persistent themes at the Association for Accessible Medicines’ first GRx+Biosims meeting was an existential one. Authorities such as Gillian Woollett, PhD; Hillel Cohen, PhD; and several industry experts worried that without a change in mindset and intervention by government, payers, and the industry itself, the US biosimilar industry may not survive its infancy. And failure to attain US biosimilar market success would have grave consequences for the global biosimilars industry.

Biosimilar Market Success
Gillian Woollett

In her session, Avalere Health’s Senior Vice President Gillian Woollett, discussed the three mountains that biosimilar manufacturers had to climb in order to be successful. These were, in sequence, Mount FDA Approval, Mount Exclusivity and Intellectual Property, and Mount Commercialization. Indeed, it seems that FDA approval in many ways may be the easiest hill to summit.

Twelve biosimilars have been approved by FDA, but this is a far cry from attaining biosimilar market success. The eight drugs that are approved but have not yet reached the market are testament to this problem. Most have fallen victim to the lengthy delays associated with the exclusivity and intellectual property difficulties, none more so than the adalimumab biosimilars. For US biosimilar makers, each year that Humira® (and etanercept [Enbrel®] which will likely be introduced before 2020) face no market competition represents billions of dollars in unrecoverable revenue, as well as tens of billions of lost savings to the health system. Of course, it also means billions of additional revenues to the reference drug makers and their shareholders, which is substantially why these delays occur in the first place.

Don’t Look to the US, not Yet

Dr. Woollett asked, “Can there be a sustainable multisource specialty market in the US? I don’t think this is a foregone conclusion in the US.” She explained that the US is 50% of the market by dollar volume, yet it is home to only 5% of the world’s population. With aggressive tenders in many EU member countries, manufacturers are looking toward the US market to ensure long-term profitability. “Can the US carry the return on investment for biosimilars for the rest of world? I’m not convinced,” asserted Dr. Woollett.

Dr. Woollett pointed to another potential limiting factor in the commercialization of biosimilars. No interchangeable version of a biosimilar has yet been approved by FDA. However, switching matters greatly to the anti-inflammatory biosimilar drug maker, because it determines the size of the initial market opportunity. She explained, “If it applies to entire anti-TNF market, that’s $30.4 billion for infliximab. If you consider only treatment-naïve patients, that market is much, much smaller. If it is restricted to treatment-naïve patients, then no, these biosimilars will not be viable.” Switching is not a formidable issue for cancer biosimilars, as these are used as chronic treatments; nearly all patients are new to treatment.

She also noted a decline in the number of biosimilar development programs registered with FDA, which may be a signal of problems in the perception of manufacturers regarding their market opportunity.

Limited Reference Biologics Targeted
“Interest in biosimilar development only occurs for successful originator biologics,” Dr. Woollett pointed out. When filtering out biologics that are also not nearing patent expiration, it leaves a limited set of very expensive reference medications.

In making the business decision whether to develop a biosimilar, drug makers consider a number of questions, including the ease and cost of obtaining samples for evaluation, potential need for expensive clinical studies, and finally, what expense and time may be required for commercialization (including patent litigation). If a company plans on making the biosimilar available in a number of countries, it may be required to prove its molecule is adequately similar to samples obtained from each country or region. This could mean the need to purchase over 100 lots from the manufacturer, which is often not willing to sell to potential competitors. This is the reason for legislation like CREATES Act, which attempt to make this easier for potential biosimilar manufacturers.

Lowering Costs Through Harmonization of Comparators
However, Dr. Woollett and her colleagues in the biosimilars industry threw their support behind a different approach in 2017. Theirs is an initiative to establish “global reference comparators.” Under this approach, a manufacturer would only have to prove biosimilarity with a single licensed version of the reference product. “If the reference product is the same worldwide, then oughtn’t the biosimilar be able to be, too?” she asked. “Requirements for different datasets cannot be justified,” said Dr. Woollett. “Biologics been around for a very long time.

Biosimilar Market Success
Hillel Cohen

Once approved, complexity is no longer a relevant argument.” This would eliminate the need for biosimilar makers to confirm equivalence in bridging studies between their molecule and the licensed standard approved by each jurisdiction.

This approach reflects a growing understanding that the lot-to-lot variations seen in usual manufacturing of biologics (and over time) do not generally represent a risk to patients in terms of clinical effectiveness or safety. This, Hillel Cohen, PhD, Executive Director, Scientific Affairs, Sandoz, has just not shown to be an issue over 20-odd years of biologic production (outside of the Eprex® incident in 1998). In essence, today’s biologics are biosimilars to the original product approved by the FDA or EMA decades ago, without adverse effect on efficacy or safety. He pointed out that bridging studies that have been required add time and complexity to biosimilar development. Global comparators would help resolve this, and it can be applied to both biosimilarity and interchangeability comparisons as well. Dr. Cohen noted that “the FDA’s draft interchangeability guidelines still require comparison with US-licensed reference products only.”

Interchangeability not a Guarantee of Biosimilar Market Success 

Dr. Cohen said that when a biosimilar product is so extensively studied as to its comparability with the reference product, “I cannot imagine scientifically why we thought switching would be a problem. In the opinion of the EU, these agents are substitutable, under proper supervision, with clinical monitoring. Indeed, the concept of interchangeability is unique to US regulations. However, even this designation may not hold the key to biosimilar market success.

Leah Christl, PhD, FDA, agrees with EMA that biosimilars in theory are interchangeable with their reference for the purpose of MD prescribing (meaning they are substitutable). This helps address the question of whether a noninterchangeable biosimilar is somehow a lower quality or less equivalent to a reference product than an interchangeable biosimilar might be. In fact, Dr. Cohen pointed out, “There is no definition of a ‘noninterchangeable biosimilar’ in the BPCIA.”

The cost of development of biosimilars, which may be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, is very high, considering that only four have been launched in the US. Dr. Woollett thinks that something will have to change in order for biosimilar manufacturers to maintain their interest in this sector. Yet, in view of the limited options available in the US to remedy the situation, Dr. Woollett remains pessimistic. “These investments in biosimlars of up to $500 million will be reconsidered,” she concluded.

At the GRx+Biosims meeting, Secretary Azar’s assistant Daniel Best restated the administration’s desire to preserve the biosimilar industry for the benefit of lowering prices and greater competition. He said, “We absolutely have to find a market for biosimilars. We can’t allow it be be eradicated through the perverse incentives in the marketplace.”

In fact, the only biosimilar market success story to date, Zarxio®, may be as much the result of a certain set of preconditions as that of Sandoz’s marketing efforts. First, another branded product, tbo-filgrastim (Granix®), was already available and was eroding the share of Amgen’s reference product. Second, this agent, though not technically a biosimilar by the regulatory approval pathway, cleared away some of the patent issues for Sandoz in its development of Zarxio. Third, Amgen eventually yielded the top position to Sandoz (at around 40% of marketshare). This set of circumstances is a bit unlikely for the introduction of other biosimilar drugs. Many will be looking to Mylan and its commercialization of pegfilgrastim as the next test of biosimilar market success.

FDA Purple Book: Much Potential Value, Little Current Help

Under the BPCIA, the FDA Purple Book is the published agency reference on biosimilars. It lists very specific information with regard to both the reference biologics and biosimilars: (1) biologic licensing application number, (2) nonproprietary name, (3) proprietary name (brand name), (4) date of licensure, (4) reference product exclusivity expiration, and (5) whether the product is a biosimilar or interchangeable product.

FDA Purple BookHowever, the number of patents existing on a specific reference product and the complex nature of the web of exclusivities, has compelled several speakers at a September 4, 2018 public hearing on biosimilars to question the value of the current Purple Book information.

FDA Purple Book
Mariana Socal

At the FDA-sponsored hearing, Mariana Socal, MD, PhD, MS, MPP, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, stated that the FDA Purple Book should focus more on competition, “providing both proprietary and nonproprietary information.” She believes that “the drug identification information should be expanded,” to include administration, dosage form, strength, pediatric use, and orphan drug status. She would rather the FDA Purple Book publish much more information regarding the active ingredient, “and all unexpired exclusivity periods should be published in the Purple Book.” For those patents found to be eliglible, the 12-year reference exclusivity under BPCIA should be determined and published definitively in the Purple Book.

“The Purple Book should include information on all unexpired patents that the reference manufacturers reasonably believe protects their biologic product,” said Dr. Socal. Otherwise, it forces prospective biosimilar drug makers to sift through hundreds of complex pharmaceutical patents, “making it easy to miss a key patent.”

“The FDA is authorized to do this under the Public Health Service Act,” she stated. Increasing transparency and reducing uncertainty are building blocks of the effort to improve timeliness of access to biosimilars.

According to Dr. Socal and other speakers like Michelle Cope at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and Christine Simmon at The Biosimilar Council, the implication is that the FDA Purple Book needs to be more of an assistive tool to improving access to biosimilars rather than simply a reference on what has been approved.

 

Mylan Rethinking Its US Business Strategy?

In reporting lower earnings on its second-quarter revenues, Mylan may have surprised industry observers by offering the possibility of some changes in strategic direction. Although Mylan executives sounded hopeful notes on the company’s biosimilar portfolio, the hints CEO Heather Bresch provided may affect the marketing of the biosimilars as well as its other pharmaceutical business.

Mylan CEO
Heather Bresch

Chief Executive Officer Heather Bresch said that Mylan’s generic drug business was the main reason for the declines in overall revenues, with adjusted gross profit from US business down 6% from the previous quarter last year. Sales revenues from North America as a whole were down 22% compared with an increase of 10% for the rest of the world.

On a conference call to announce the earnings, she noted that “our efforts to serve patients in the U.S. have been shaped by the industry’s transformation there, and our results and guidance for 2018 are directly correlated with the ongoing rebasing of the US healthcare environment.”

According to Rajiv Malik, President of Mylan, “This past quarter, Mylan continued to execute on its commitment to expand access to medicine through the advancement of our complex product portfolio across our global diversified platform. For example, we launched Fulphila™, our pegfilgrastim biosimilar, in the US, and CHMP issued a positive opinion for our biosimilar of Humira in Europe.”

The Board of Directors released its own statement, however, indicating that it may take a number of actions that could dramatically change the picture (though not specified, these could include selling off assets, seeking a merger, or restructuring the organization). In a press release, the Board said, “we believe that the US public markets continue to underappreciate and undervalue the durability, differentiation and strengths of Mylan’s global diversified business, especially when compared to our peers around the globe. Therefore, while we will continue to execute on our best-in-class, long-term focused sustainable strategy, the Board has formed a strategic review committee and is actively evaluating a wide range of alternatives to unlock the true value of our one-of-a-kind platform. The Board has not set a timetable for its evaluation of alternatives and there can be no assurance that any alternative will be implemented.”

Observers will be greatly interested in how Fulphila performs in the third quarter and beyond, particularly around the deep discount offered by Mylan. This could be a considerable shot in the arm to Mylan’s US revenues or simply a ratification of its opinion that the US health system is incentivized by higher prices.

 

Mylan’s Fulphila Pegfilgrastim Biosimilar Launches at Big Discount

The first pegfilgrastim biosimilar Fulphila Pegfilgrastim Biosimilar Launchedlgrastim (Fulphila™) in the US has begun marketing, and Mylan/Biocon are offering a 33% discount to the wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) of the originator product Neulasta®. The Center for Biosimilars reported a communication from Mylan confirming the action. This is a watershed moment for the pegfilgrastim category and could signal the beginning of large savings opportunities for payers and patients.

At a WAC of $4,175 per syringe, the pegfilgrastim biosimilar may be very attractive to health plans and insurers. It is also assumed that this will effectively drive down the average sales price (ASP) of the category over time. The ASP includes the WAC as well as any rebates or discounts given by the manufacturers.

The pegfilgrastim biosimilar, like the reference drug, Amgen’s Neulasta, is approved to decrease the incidence of infection as manifested by febrile neutropenia in patients receiving myelosuppressive chemotherapy.

Although patent litigation between the partners and the maker of the originator product (Amgen), Mylan/Biocon have decided to launch at risk. This means that if the District Court sides with Amgen, Mylan’s could face large financial penalties, including profits on the sales of the biosimilar.

Would Biosimilar Approvals With Limited Indications Alter the IP Discussion?

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be issuing a series of posts to further analyze some of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) new Biosimilars Action Plan.

The Biosimilars Action Plan contains several important components. One of the more interesting items FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb mentioned in his remarks at the Brookings Institution webinar on Wednesday, July 18, involved modifying the intellectual property (IP) discussion with biosimilar approval for limited indications.

Originator drug makers have erected a so-called patent maze or patent wall over time to protect their IP and thus their marketing exclusivity as far into the future as possible. Patents can be filed for product composition, manufacturing techniques, new formulations, delivery systems, and indications. Often, the biologic products facing potential biosimilar competition have several indications. Adalimumab, for instance, is approved for use in nine unique conditions (I’ve included Crohn’s disease and pediatric Crohn’s as one disease state).

Dr. Gottlieb said that the FDA will be “updating guidance to provide additional clarity on how biosimilar manufacturers can carve out indications from their labels where a branded drug maker might still maintain some IP.” He continued, “And we’re going to describe how these indications can be efficiently added into a biosimilar label once that IP on the branded alternative has lapsed.”

This component was not spelled out in the Biosimilars Action Plan. Limited indications may indeed be an avenue to work with originator manufacturers to help reduce patent litigation that is barring patient access to biosimilars. One would assume that it would take some level of negotiation with the manufacturer of the originator. However, biosimilars with limited indications may be a hornets’ nest for reference manufacturers like AbbVie.

This gets back to the entire issue of extrapolation. From the outset, patients and providers recoiled at the notion of approving a biosimilar product for use in a disease state in which no clinical studies were done. The FDA has been pretty liberal in granting extrapolation to several or all indications for the 11 approved biosimilars. If FDA explored this option as a mechanism for getting biosimilars to the market sooner, it would be sending a new message. That is, the biosimilar drug may be expected to yield similar outcomes compared with the reference drug based on the totality of the evidence, but we’re unwilling for other reasons to give it our approval for those other indications.

Biosimilar Indications Laws or regulations do not exit to prevent doctors from prescribing a biosimilar for a nonapproved indication. Furthermore, health plans and insurers have consistently reported in our own market research that they would not discourage use of a biosimilar for other indications for which only the originator biologic was approved. This assumes the biosimilar is sufficiently less expensive than the originator. As a result, drug makers like AbbVie may be very wary of the limited-indication approach to improve biosimilar access.

Still, some way must be found to break the logjam of litigation on IP. This is a specific target of Commissioner Gottlieb’s. He may take even more creative approaches.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

How Will Biosimilars Be Affected by Trump’s Drug Price Reform Measures?

Trump on BiosimilarsWhen President Trump announced the broad strokes of his drug price reform initiative, some of these measures seemed on target to benefit the biosimilars industry. However long awaited, makers of originator biologics seemed not to be worried about its implications. The President may not be able to effect much change, without causing unintended adverse consequences.

According to its blueprint, the Trump Administration “believes it is time to realign the system in four ways: increasing competition, improving government negotiation tools, creating incentives for lower list prices, and bringing down out-of-pocket costs for consumers.”

Increasing competition is critical to improving biosimilar access. But this cannot be achieved with one action. Several areas—some addressed and others not by the blueprint—are key.

 

Reining in Drug Patent Abuse

Aimed squarely at drug makers who try to extend exclusivity through multiple patent filings, this is the one action that could improve biosimilar prospects. Limited biosimilar access is caused by the inability to market these drugs after Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. Patent litigation is the number 1 issue here. The President said, “Our patent system will reward innovation, but it will not be used as a shield to protect unfair monopolies.”

Trump Drug Cost Reform BiosimilarsWithout significant overhaul of the drug patent system (or the system for ruling on the validity of patents), this is unlikely to benefit biosimilar manufacturers in the near term. This effort could take many years and may have negative effects on the protection of legitimate intellectual property.

This is likely to result in little relief for the biosimilar industry.

 

Price Disclosures in Consumer Advertising

The fact that originator specialty biologics—the medications targeted for biosimilar competition—cost thousands of dollars may be a revelation to consumers who pay fixed copays for them. President Trump’s plan would require manufacturers to disclose the cost of the drug on direct-to-consumer advertisements.

Biosimilars The assumption is that this would be required across the board, including biosimilars. Would consumers recognize that their Renflexis® biosimilar costs thousands less than Remicade® in terms of wholesale acquisition cost? Not likely. In terms of net cost to the payer (not the patient generally), the price differential is far less. Even if the true costs were posted on consumer advertising, Mr. and Mrs. Smith would still hear or see that Renflexis costs thousands of dollars. They may even be further confused, because their out-of-pocket cost will likely be far less, unless a deductible applies.

 

An Emphasis on Value-Based Purchasing

The Obama Administration was committed to expansion of value-based purchasing. The present administration wants to further explore the potential of this policy, but it has not spelled out any specifics. It could be a boon to biosimilars based on the implications of value-based purchasing itself. After all, biosimilars are in existence to provide better value. More details are needed on its extent and whether implementation will occur through Health and Human Services or through Congress before useful opinions can be rendered.

 

Lower Drug Prices in US, Higher Elsewhere

The United States has very little ability to compel drug prices to rise for health systems in Europe, Canada, or Mexico, for instance, and as a result, lower them in this country. Pharmaceutical companies charge what the market will bear. Unless the Trump Administration can somehow convince the UK to pay more for Rituxan®/MabThera®, Humira®, or Enbrel®, these drug prices will not be altered.

There are reasons these countries pay the prices they do. It is related to their bidding or tender systems and the fact that other countries will exclude coverage at higher prices.

Trump Drug Cost Reform Consider another practical issue—why does a price increase in Germany mean a price decrease in the US (and for whom—Medicare, Medicaid, 340b facilities, commercial plans)? If such a move could be achieved, how does the Administration convince drug makers to apply those greater revenues obtained globally to greater discounts or rebates to Americans? It is more likely that the pharmaceutical industry will pass the increased profits to shareholders.

If these specialty drugs were forced to lower their price in the US, would that apply to biosimilars as well? That may not work towards long-term viability of the industry, depending on the measures taken.

 

Removing Rebates and Improving the Value of Biosimilars

One thing can actually improve cost transparency and possibly force pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to change their value model. If the Congress decides that drug rebates run afoul of laws against kickbacks, this could compel far lower wholesale acquisition costs (WACs). It would also have the effect of lowering patients’ cost sharing. Co-insurance is commonly based on the WAC not the net cost of the drug to the payer or PBM.

In this case, biosimilar manufacturers’ true WAC discounts can be applied directly and drive the “rebate trap” out of existence.

Applying this rule to commercial plans, Medicare Advantage, and part D providers would be a direct improvement in the current situation and could lower system-wide health costs. That assumes that manufacturers don’t sense an opportunity to raise prices by say 8% when they no longer have to pay 15% rebates.

 

Missed Opportunity: Using the Negotiating Power of Medicare

If the Administration was interested in reining in drug costs, the first serious step would be to let the Medicare program negotiate with manufacturers. This large purchaser getting its best deals from the natural competitive marketplace. It may require some adjustments in Medicaid “best price” assumptions, however.

It does seem that biosimilar makers could benefit from several of the policy changes proposed by the Trump Administration. However, the blueprint released is just that—weak on details and not specific to avoiding unintended consequences. Furthermore, it does not anticipate the reactive responses of the stakeholders involved. I guarantee there will be much more discussion as the government’s actions are announced.

Lessons for Biosimilars From the Generic Drug Industry

The utilization of generics in the US is vast, upwards of 86% of all prescriptions in 2017, according to the latest research by IQVIA. The pace of generic drug approvals by the Food and Drug Administration is also impressive, with 767 last year. This does not ensure the future of the generic drug industry, however, said Doug Long, MBA, IQVIA’s Vice President of Industry Relations. If we’re not careful, biosimilars in the pipeline could suffer a fate similar to that for newly approved generics.

Doug Long, IQVIA
Doug Long, IQVIA

In his yearly update presented at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy 2018 annual meeting on April 25, Mr. Long said that despite near-record numbers of generic approvals over a three-year period, “only 30% of these generics were actually launched. That’s not happened before.” The reason is that the manufacturers, upon receiving approval, reevaluate the marketplace prospects for their product and the competition. “They decide not to throw additional money into a losing proposition,” he stated. In fact, of the 767 generic approvals, only 73 were first-time generics. Ninety percent were simply piling competition onto already crowded drug categories.

He terms it a race to the bottom, but not a death spiral for generics. That is, “we’ve already reached the bottom, and we will come off of it” at some point. Generic drug manufacturers’ reticence to launch will help change the market direction.

Biosimilars have vast potential to save health care dollars, but only if they are launched. In a couple of instances, manufacturers have reviewed their biosimilar positions (Shire, EMD Serono) while early in the pipeline. Though it is reasonable to expect a paring back of prospective biosimilar drug makers, we hoped this would happen once the marketplace becomes saturated. That of course has not happened.

More Evidence of Value in Generics

Although several generic drugs have been associated with steep price increases, the net price change in 2017 for generics was -7.2%, according to Mr. Long. Most of this was the result of large rebates. Despite 86% generic drug prescribing, generics account for only 13% of the revenues. “I think there will be more generic drug shortages as a result of this revenue picture. People are refusing to launch after receiving approval, based on the dynamics of the marketplace,” he said. There will be more patent expirations and opportunities for first-time generics, “but I have less optimism on the biosimilar side.”

“Of 9 biosimilar approvals, we have only 3 launched products,” emphasized Mr. Long, “accounting for just $1 billion in total value of US marketplace in biosimilars.” He was hopeful that biosimilars for Remicade would have “broken the dam,” but this hasn’t happened. “Instead, payers have chosen to take the rebates, not the biosimilars. That resulted in only a 3% marketshare as a result for infliximab biosimilars.”

He noted that the average rebates given to payers and pharmacy benefit managers is 25% for biologics overall. Rebates in the autoimmune area averaged 20%, but payer market research routinely confirms that Janssen’s Remicade® rebates well exceed this figure.

Note: IQVIA is the child of the marriage between Quintiles and IMS.

 

Teva and Celltrion Receive Rejections on Trastuzumab and Rituximab Biosimilars

Celltrion and its partner Mylan were dealt a significant blow today, as the Korean manufacturer announced that the latest two biosimilar candidates were rejected by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Celltrion logo1As first reported by Dan Stanton in the Biopharma Reporter, the FDA issued complete response letters as a result of inspection problems uncovered at Celltrion’s manufacturing facility in Incheon, Korea. Celltrion initially receive the negative inspection report in January of this year, which highlighted deficiencies in aseptic practices and processing, and failure to investigate variations in batches.Teva

Under the partners’ pact, signed in 2016, Teva would commercialize the two biosimilars. Teva has a separate concern, however, in that the same Celltrion plant cited by the FDA has been tabbed to produce its CGRP-inhibitor fremanezumab for migraine prevention. This migraine prevention antibody, which also has the potential to reach sales of $1 billion, has a PDUFA date of mid-June.

In a statement published by Mr. Stanton, a Celltrion spokesperson said, “Celltrion is making progress addressing the concerns raised by the FDA in a Warning Letter issued in January and is committed to working with the agency to fully resolve all outstanding issues with the highest priority and urgency.”

The issuance of the CRLs may be extremely poor timing for the partners. Although Mylan signed an agreement with Roche to delay the launch of its approved biosimilar version of Herceptin® until at least 2019, the other competitors have not. Amgen/Allergan expect word on their 351(k) submission within the month, and Samsung Bioepis should hear in the fourth quarter. On the rituximab front, Sandoz should receive word early in the third quarter.