On November 28, 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the approval of rituximab-abbs (Truxima™), produced by Celltrion and marketed by Teva.
Approval for this rituximab biosimilar was overwhelmingly recommended by the FDA’s Oncology Drug Advisory Committee by a vote of 16-0 in October. It is the first biosimilar agent approved for the treatment of relapsed or refractory, low grade, or follicular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—specifically in adult patients with the CD20+ B-cell variety. The drug makers did not seek approval for the Rituxan’s autoimmune indications, and the FDA did not grant extrapolated approval for them.
According to the FDA’s announcement, the most common side effects of Truxima are infusion reactions, fever, abnormally low level of lymphocytes in the blood (lymphopenia), chills, infection and weakness (asthenia). Health care providers are advised to monitor patients for tumor lysis syndrome (a complication of treatment where tumor cells are killed off at the same time and released into the bloodstream), cardiac adverse reactions, damage to kidneys (renal toxicity), and bowel obstruction and perforation.
This leaves a wide open marketing window for Celltrion and Teva, as Sandoz announced in late October that it was halting its effort to bring its own rituximab biosimilar to the market. There is no word as of this writing regarding the launch and pricing of Truxima in the US. This also represents the second FDA approval for Celltrion; its infliximab biosimilar, Inflectra, was approved in 2016.
In Other Biosimilar News… As BR&R reported in our October discussion with Molly Burich, MS, Director, Public Policy: Biosimilars and Pipeline, Boehringer Ingelheim had decided to forego marketing its adalimumab biosimilar Cyltezo® in the EU. This is likely owing to the highly competitive environment and the huge pricing discounts being signed by European countries. However, Boehringer has now announced its intention to discontinue all efforts to market and develop any biosimilars outside of the US market. This may come as little surprise, as the Boehringer biosimilar pipeline was not aggressively stocked. Instead, it has been focused on seeking interchangeability status for Cyltezo and to launch this product as soon as possible.
In part two and the conclusion of this interview, Molly Burich, MS, Director, Public Policy: Biosimilars and Pipeline, speaks to Boehringer Ingelheim’s progress in Cytelzo interchangeability studies, its plans for the product in Europe in the face of several adalimumab biosimilars launches in the EU, and also the complexity inherent in CMS’s plans to move biologic agents from part B to part D coverage.
BR&R: Boehringer Ingelheim indicated that it started the study on Cytelzo interchangeability last year. What’s the progress on this effort?
Burich: The trial is continuing to progress. It’s a high bar and a big commitment. We will certainly publicize relevant information in due course.
We feel that for Cyltezo, in particular, interchangeability is an important component. It may drive switching. The study will also show a complement of clinical data around that topic. We hope to have information to share in the future. [Editor’s Note: The VOLTAIRE-X study, which will evaluate the effect of switching between Cyltezo and Humira in patients with plaque psoriasis, has an estimated primary study completion date of March 2020 and full study completion of July 2020, according to ClinicalTrials.gov]
BR&R: Speaking about Cyltezo, I have a question about the marketing floodgates being opened in the EU for adalimumab biosimilars. At least 4 are being launched in the EU after the October 16th patent expiration. Does Boehringer Ingelheim plan to join the fray?
Burich: Boehringer Ingelheim had planned to bring Cyltezo to patients in the EU. Due to the patent litigation with AbbVie in the US, we will not commercialize Cyltezo in the EU. Boehringer Ingelheim will continue all activities for our biosimilar in the United States. We are committed to making Cyltezo® available to U.S. patients as soon as possible and certainly before 2023.
PART B TO PART D TRANSITION BY CMS
BR&R: Medicare has indicated that it will move many Medicare part B drugs into part D. To what extent will this affect biosimilar access and utilization?
Burich: It is a very hot topic these days. We have some pretty significant concerns on conceptually around what it means for moving from part B to part D. The key reason revolves around the access question, including patient cost sharing.
A move from part B to plan D could mean that patient cost sharing may jump significantly. We know that part B beneficiaries have wraparound or Medigap coverage to protect them from cost sharing issues. In part D, there is not such protection. Aside from the biosimilar question, the move from part B to part D really has to be explored and discussed a lot more to understand how we can ensure that patient access is not reduced through high cost sharing. That needs to be ironed out as it applies to any part B drug before we can speculate whether this is an opportunity for a biosimilar. Time will tell what that really looks like.
Last month, CMS released the Medicare Advantage guidance allowing for step therapy for part B drugs. That could be a potential opportunity for biosimilars, if we know how some of the access concerns will be addressed. We just don’t have the full picture at this point.
BR&R: Is it possible that this move to part D might spur some payers to create biosimilar tiers? These would require lower cost sharing for patients compared with reference biologics, assuming contracts with the reference manufacturer permits it.
Burich: In my opinion, we’ll need access to more biosimilars before we see a lot of that activity. It’s hard to foresee what big benefit design changes will be coming, but it’s certainly possible. We’ll need a mature market in the US before that will happen.
BR&R: The devil is in the details with this switching issue but there’s also an access issue. Plans can make midyear formulary changes, this would then apply to biosimilars and reference drugs covered under part D.
Burich: This is an important issue. The latest guidance that we saw from CMS, which is now a couple of years old, allowed positive formulary changes. Adding the biosimilar to a formulary is always allowed mid-year. The question involves removing an originator product or changing its tier.
CMS has said that those situations would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. These rules preventing negative formulary changes midyear are there to protect patient access. It will take CMS some time to iron out what the process looks like for this type of potential formulary change midyear. For now, we’ll have to rely on CMS’s case-by-case review
BR&R: In general, payers do not consistently fund and manage self-injectable specialty drugs in the same way. In some cases, they cover these agents under the pharmacy benefits, medical benefit, or even both. Further, they can be managed under either benefit as well. However, it seems we are moving toward pharmacy management of these agents. How does this affect biosimilar access, if at all?
Burich: There will be more benefit design changes once we have a more robust biosimilar market. More specifically, when we have pharmacy benefit biosimilars.
We’ve mentioned CMS’s intention to move more of these products from part B to part D. It is possible that commercial plans will have different benefit designs and treat injectables differently than Medicare does. We want to make sure that biosimilar or not, the access piece is really at the center of those changes; it will not be beneficial to the biosimilar market if this move causes significant patient access issues (e.g., actual access to this drug or big swings in cost sharing). All of those things will be equally problematic for a biosimilar as they are for an originator, so we want to make sure we have our eye on the access component.
BR&R: Health and Human Services Secretary Azar and FDA Commissioner Gottlieb have loudly stated their desire to improve biosimilar patient and market access. The Biosimilar Action Plan was released earlier in the summer to that end. What is the one aspect of the Biosimilar Action Plan that appeals most to manufacturers like Boehringer Ingelheim?
Burich: The aspect of education, tackling both proactive education and countering misinformation is very critical from our perspective. We’d like to see more materials moving forward that focus on switching and on interchangeability. We haven’t really scratched the surface on those topics from an education standpoint.
The reality is that the FDA has an important voice and bringing validity to educational materials is so critical for patients, physicians, and health plans as well. We hope that the FDA will stand by its public commitment to release more reading materials, more videos, more web info, etc. It is especially important at this juncture; we are seeing misinformation and a lack of clarity on certain things.
IS THE BIOSIMILAR ACTION PLAN ACTIONABLE?
BR&R: One of the biggest barriers to biosimilar access is the patent thickets. The rebate trap problem is another story. What power does HHS have to clear out the patent thickets? Or is this an area that can only be addressed by Congress?
Burich: This is the most difficult part of the Action Plan, because it is unclear who can truly implement change and what change might be realistic. We have to protect true innovation that’s important to all stakeholders.
At the same time, there’s no question that patent litigation is the leading barrier to biosimilar accesss. Some makers of branded pharmaceuticals have constructed patent thickets so that they could sustain prolonged, expensive litigation against competitors, while stifling competition. Humira is the prime example: More than 15 years after the molecule was approved , no biosimilar is being marketed – in the U.S. What the answer is and which government agency can effect change has yet to be determined.
BR&R: That change won’t come quickly, in any case. Whether enacted by Congress or the Office of the Inspector General, which may have to reinterpret the safe harbor statutes, this may only first apply to the second-generation of biosimilar agents, beyond 2021 perhaps. It seems likely that this will be a very deliberate process.
Burich: I do believe Commissioner Gottlieb is thinking about both how to get more products launched in the short term and also the long-term vision of a sustainable biosimilar market. That is such an important part of the problem.
We were very happy that the FDA had their public hearing. The FDA panel asked a lot of thoughtful and probing questions to the individual speakers. We are fully supportive of the Action Plan and its individual components. If we saw all of those things come together and start to see action, including finalizing the interchangeability guidance and providing more education, the biosimilar market would be in a far better place.
BR&R: We say that biosimilar manufacturers can make their products attractive to payers, but payers need to play a positive role here. Commissioner Gottlieb has said that payers have to help in this process by taking the long-term view, by not automatically sticking with the reference product because of the rebate revenue. They have to be open to using the biosimilars and nurturing the health of the industry. Is there anything else the biosimilar manufacturer can do to convince payers to make this market viable?
Burich: Certainly, biosimilar manufacturers have to approach these payer negotiations and conversations with competitive and innovative contracting approaches. That does not just include pricing but also how do you drive volume and true savings to both payers and patients. That kind of innovative approach is necessary, because we know it’s a challenging market.
Biosimilar manufacturers have to look at the whole picture as well. That means providing targeted patient/physician services to really help ensure that the switching experience is seamless for the patient and the physician so that biosimilar utilization is not viewed as something very disruptive.
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.
A long-sought dream in the United States will be a welcome reality in Europe this October: a stampede for Abbvie’s marketshare with adalimumab biosimilars and the savings that go with it.
Four or possibly five manufacturers will be lined up in the starting gate. Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin Biologics and its marketing partner Mylan have not yet received approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), but they do have a positive opinion from the Committee on Human Medicinal Products. They expect to hear a final decision from the EMA by October and hope to market it that same month, joining the other adalimumab biosimilar drugmakers.
Several other manufacturers are also in the running, but will be late entries. They have completed phase III studies but their biosimilar adalimumab applications are not yet filed: Coherus, Pfizer, Fresenius, and Momenta.
On October 16, Abbvie’s Humira® patent expires and the starting gate should open. We’ve not seen anything similar in the US biosimilar market. Even when Abbvie’s patents expire in 2022 and agreements go into effect, this will be more of a staggered start, with Amgen having first crack at the market in January 2023 followed by Samsung Bioepis in June of that year. That is, unless another biosimilar manufacturer refuses to sign a licensing agreement with Abbvie and launches at risk earlier.
In any case, the savings seen in the EU should be immediate and if competition is not hindered, adalimumab biosimilar prices will be slashed. It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out, with one of the world’s biologic sales leaders.
It will certainly leave American payers dreaming about what could be, but will not be, for several years at least.
Samsung Bioepis and Biogen has reached a deal with Abbvie that would enable it to market its biosimilar adalimumab (should it be granted approval) in June 2023. This is the second deal Abbvie has made with a potential competitor, confirming the solidity of its patent wall. The European patent expires in October 2018, and competitors will be able to sell biosimilars over the pond unhindered at that time.
However, without competition, most expect unencumbered price increases until a US biosimilar introduction. In other words, biosimilars will not make an appreciable impact on the cost of adalimumab in the US market, unless another biosimilar manufacturer decides to launch at risk in the near future.
A Deal Prior to FDA Approval
The agent, SB5 has not yet been filed for approval in the US. Samsung filed its application for approval in the EU in July 2016 and was authorized by the European Medical Agency in August 2017. Biogen will market the agent for Samsung, whenever it is launched.
Amgen inked a deal with Abbvie in September 2017, effectively ending its patent battle. This deal gives Amgen a jump on other competitors that reach settlements with Abbvie, by allowing a launch in January 2023. In addition, other manufacturers are working on adalimumab biosimilars, including Coherus and Sandoz. The biggest question though is Boehringer Ingelheim’s move, as they have the only other FDA-approved adalimumab biosimilar approved on the marketplace (but also unlaunched). Boehringer responded to our request but declined to comment on its plans moving forward with the product, including a targeted launch date.
Without Competition, Expect 45% Jump in WAC Price
As addressed earlier in this space, the time to effective competition for a US biosimilar adalimumab is crucial. Abbvie’s annual global revenue on the product may reach as much as $21 billion, with the last price increase registered in January, at 9.7%. Assuming Abbvie sticks to its pledge of no more than one
10% price increase per year, that would result in a wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) of more than $52,000 at the close of 2022, or a 45% jump from today’s WAC. This figure does not reflect individual negotiated rates (including rebates) that health plans and insurers actually pay. Yet, it does roughly indicate what type of discount will be necessary when biosimilars reach the market to simply attain the cost paid in 2018—that is, no more savings. Without competition before 2023, this may be the one area where payers pray for a rapid and bracing race to the bottom on price once 2023 rolls around. With Abbvie’s hand continuing on the tiller, don’t plan on it.
In other biosimilar news…Celltrion acknowledged that it is seeking to rectify the manufacturing plant issues that torpedoed its FDA approval of biosimilars for trastuzumab and rituximab. In the statement, it noted, “Celltrion is confident that the issues raised by the FDA will be resolved in a timely manner.
We can confirm that the resubmission will be in-place relatively soon. Then, we are expecting approvals in 6 months after resubmission according to regulatory timeline.”
Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. announced August 29 that it had received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its first biosimilar. Named Cyltezo™ (adalimumab-adbm), a biosimilar to Humira®, it is approved for several autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn’s disease in adults, plaque psoriasis, and ulcerative colitis.
The FDA approval bypassed the need for an Arthritis Advisory Committee review and recommendation, which the agency suggested may be increasingly common with future biosimilar approvals. One suspects that this is more likely with the licensing of the first biosimilar for a particular originator product, with the assumption of a comprehensive data package on submission.
Like Amgen’s Amjevita®, Boehringer’s biosimilar will likely enter a holding pattern until patent litigation is settled (or the patents expire) on AbbVie’s Humira. In the meantime, Boehringer indicated that it will seek approval for an autoinjector, to stand alongside its newly approved subcutaneous formulation.
Boehringer has also applied for approval with the European Medicines Agency, which is expected to decide on its approval before the end of this year. Samsung Bioepsis and partner Biogen earned its own European approval for Imraldi™ this week, another adalimumab biosimilar.