In Canada, Mandated Biosimilar Switching Again Shines Spotlight on Need for Education

The Canadian province of British Columbia mandated on May 27 that patients receiving public coverage who are using reference insulin glargine, infliximab, and etanercept therapies must be switched to biosimilars in the next 6 months. This has caused a predictable flaring of tempers, and generated some opposition on my Twitter feed.

The article in the (Vancouver) Globe and Mail announcing the decision quoted the province’s health minister: “Biologic drugs continue to be a growing pressure for public drug plans. If we continue to spend more and more of our finite health dollars on biologics, it restricts our ability to provide coverage for existing drugs … not to mention hindering our ability to list any new drugs.” According to the article, British Columbia will save nearly $100 million through 2022 as a result of the policy. This policy does not affect those individuals who receive their drugs through private insurance or employer-sponsored plans (which can act independently of the government).

Like in the US, Janssen’s Remicade® still accounts for 92% of the infliximab utilization in Canada.

On the morning after the decision was announced, opinion on Twitter was divided. One side acknowledged the limited dollars available in the Canadian system. The other side wondering whether this economic decision will result in deleterious outcomes. Here, I breakdown some of the more notable negative responses:

“Specialists prefer the biologic to the biosimilar”

Any physician treating a patient with stable chronic disease would not want to change the drug regimen without good reason. However, the point of the tweet may have been that specialists actually believe the biosimilar to be inferior. In dozens of interviews with specialists, I’ve not found this to be the case. They accept the biosimilar to be safe and effective, as determined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and that the biosimilar should not provide a greater risk to a treatment-naïve patient compared with the originator product. A new French study found that patients with ulcerative colitis taking Inflectra® actually had fewer serious side effects than those taking Remicade. Does this mean the biosimilar is a better medication? No one would claim this is the case. However, it is certainly no less safe.

“For teens hoping to live for decades, are 2-month to 1-year studies adequate?”

It is true that regulatory groups like the FDA do not require biosimilar agents to be subjected to long-term safety evaluations. The FDA has emphasized that it values the physiochemical and pharmacokinetic comparability to be far more important in biosimilar evaluations. In fact, the argument has been made that phase 3 trials are of very limited use in biosimilar testing.

That said, there are at least 2 areas where longer-term evidence does exist and can be generated: (1) the actual experience in Europe, where biosimilar infliximab has been available for use since 2014, (2) and the ongoing efforts of organizations dedicated to studying and monitoring postmarketing use and outcomes. For the former, see the previously cited French study, involving nearly 5,000 patients with ulcerative colitis. For the latter, consider the Biologics and Biosimilars Collective Intelligence Consortium in the US.

“Biosimilars, well, they’re synthetic, not the same at all”

Without regard to how the writer defines “synthetic,” biosimilars are engineered proteins, just as reference biologic are engineered and produced using live cell lines. Of course, no one is arguing that biosimilars are exact copies of biologics. Even manufacturers of interchangeable biosimilars would never infer this.

It has been pointed out repeatedly that the originator drugs introduced years ago are, by our definitions today, biosimilars of themselves, because of manufacturing changes, production modifications, etc. Therefore, making the statement that biosimilars “are not the same at all” is not really true, particularly if we view the similarities in molecular structure, pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics, and patient outcomes.

Second Etanercept Biosimilar Receives FDA Approval

Samsung Bioepis scored another biosimilar approval in the US, as the Food and Drug Administration gave its nod to etanercept-ykro on April 25, 2019. Formerly known as SB4, Samsung Bioepis dubbed this agent Eticovo™. It is the second
Enbrel® biosimilar to to receive US approval.
 
This approval covered all of the reference product’s autoimmune indications, including ankylosing spondylitis, polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, plaque psoriasis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Clinical studies were performed in patients with moderate-to-severe rheumatoid arthritis, finding that in combination with methotrexate, Eticovo achieved ACR20 scores that were equivalent to that of Enbrel by week 24 (78.1% vs. 80.3%, respectively). Safety and immunogenicity were also comparable with those of the reference agent.

Eticovo has been approved in the EU and Canada, in addition to other parts of the world, under the brand names Benepali and Brenzys. Samsung Bioepis has not announced a launch date in the US for its biosimilar, and this can be delayed for quite some time. Sandoz’s Erelzi® was approved in 2016, but has not yet reached the market because of patent litigation. Amgen, which manufacturers Enbrel, believes its patents extend effectively into 2028, which would provide for nearly 30 years of product exclusivity.


Both Coherus and Lupin have investigational etanercept biosimilars that are in phase 3 trials. Neither has publicly filed for FDA approval to date.

More Clinical Study Evidence That Biosimilar Switching Carries a Low Risk

A literature review published this past weekend in Drugs reaffirms what most parties interested in biosimilars suspect—that switching from a reference product to biosimilar is not a significant clinical concern. Biosimilar switching was not generally associated with poorer outcomes.

The study evaluated the results of 90 clinical studies comprising more than 14,000 patients with 14 diseases or conditions. The authors from Novartis (and its Sandoz subsidiary), the Oregon Medical Research Center, Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, IBD Center of Humanitas Clinical and Research Hospital (Milan), and Avalere Health stated that “the great majority of the publications did not report differences in immunogenicity, safety, or efficacy [as a result of biosimilar switching]. The nature and intensity of safety signals reported after switching from reference medicines to biosimilars were the same as those already known from continued use of the reference medicines alone.” In addition, they reported, “Three large multiple switch studies with different biosimilars did not show differences in efficacy or safety after multiple switches between reference medicine and biosimilar.”

In this evaluation, the biosimilars tested included those for infliximab, epoetin, filgrastim, growth hormone (which has not been considered a biosimilar in the Ubiosimilar switchingS), etanercept, and adalimumab. Infliximab was the subject of the majority of the clinical studies.

Of the 90 studies, two were outliers, suggesting potential safety issues associated with biosimilar switching. One was described as a 2016 retrospective study of a claims database from Turkey, which found a much higher discontinuation rate with the infliximab biosimilar compared with originator product in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

The authors correctly note that the vast majority of the studies reviewed involved a single biosimilar switch, and that multiple switches may result in additional safety signals. However, they also point out that “patients have already been exposed to de facto multiple switches for many originator biologics when product quality attributes changed after one or more manufacturing process modifications were introduced.”

The question arises as to whether multiple switch studies are truly necessary outside of the requirement to prove interchangeability between a biosimilar and a reference product. There is a practical reason for doing so—the possibility (actually, the likelihood) of a patient enrolling in a new health plan one year, which covers the biosimilar but not the reference product. If the patient’s health plan changes once again one or two years later, that person may well be required to switch back to the reference product or yet another biosimilar.

This will heighten the importance of collecting real-world evidence and accumulating more experience outside of the clinical trial environment in terms of switching. Efforts such as those at the Biologics and Biosimilars Collective Intelligence Consortium should fill this gap over the next several years.

 

What Will Cost Savings on 2023 Adalimumab Biosimilars Really Be Worth?

AbbVie executives are sticking to their pledge to restrict annual price increases on Humira® below 10%, but even payer price protections won’t mitigate the increasing expenditures before adalimumab biosimilars hit the market. In 2023, when adalimumab biosimilars become available, the savings biosimilars represent may not be real savings at all.

Pharmaceutical companies generally seek to lock in preferred coverage status for their agents through the use of rebates, which lowers the net costs. Typical in these contracts is a price guarantee, which shields the payer from annual (or more frequent) price increases for the duration of the contract. The contract life is one or two years, after which the health plan, insurer, health system, or pharmacy benefits manager must renegotiate—that means significantly higher costs for each successive contract renewal.

Humira adalimumab

Drug price increases for self-injectable medications like adalimumab, are reported on top of its wholesale acquisition cost (WAC), or the list price. Rebates are applied to WAC pricing. Therefore, if for example, a manufacturer announces 9% price increase to drug X, that applies to the WAC price and does not include consideration of rebates or price guarantees secured by a payer. Rebate information is notoriously difficult to obtain, as payers and pharmaceutical companies consider them proprietary.

However, in a January piece in the New York Times, the author cites research by SSR Health, which concludes that the price of Humira with rebates rose 100% since 2012 to an average of approximately $38,000. Assuming AbbVie executives hold to their price increase pledge, raising their prices by only 6% per year, by 2023 when patent expirations will bring a rash of biosimilars to market, Humira’s price after rebates would have risen 33.8%, to $50,844. If the price is jacked up 9% per year, that would be an increase of 53.9%, to $58,482. This is assuming of course that AbbVie does not increase the rebate at each contract negotiation to offset the higher net cost. To make this dystopian vision complete, let’s not forget that the full savings will not obtained over a population unless all utilization is fully converted to a biosimilar from Humira. That may require an interchangeable biosimilar product (which has not yet been approved) .

As we reported last year, the Institute for Cost-Effectiveness Research established that to meet accepted thresholds for cost-effectiveness, Humira would have to be discounted 55% from its list price. Rises in the cost-effectiveness thresholds (currently $100,000–150,000 per quality-adjusted life-year) would never keep up with this pace of price increases. By 2023, Humira will be even further off the mark in terms of providing value.

The most important point of this, is that the cost savings of the biosimilars that are finally introduced could be an illusion. If a price war in 2023 for newly available adalimumab biosimilars results in 50% discounts, we may have received little but a roll back in costs to those of today. From the perspective of 2018, that’s not savings. That is price stability.

I wrote in 2016 of the same effect for Enbrel®. Because Amgen had taken multiple price increases in the previous years, the WAC cost jumped 37%. And in 2018, no biosimilar is presently marketed for prescription in the United States. The relative discount by Sandoz (presently the sole US company with an approved biosimilar etanercept) needed to actually save payers money for etanercept will not be realistic.

A Profile on Lesser-Known Player in the Biosimilar Space: Lupin Pharmaceuticals

On occasion, we profile some biosimilar manufacturers about whom our readers may not be as familiar as the large players like Sandoz, Amgen, and Pfizer. This generally refers to companies that have products that are in earlier-stage research or those who simply have not been in the news as often as their colleagues. In this post, we highlight a Baltimore-based company, Lupin Pharmaceuticals.

Lupin is a subsidiary of the Indian company Lupin Limited. It is perhaps best known as a manufacturer of generic drugs, especially anti-infectives.

Why you may be hearing more about this company: At a January JP Morgan investor conference, Lupin announced its intention to bring a biosimilar application for etanercept to the European Medicines Agency in early 2019, with a 351(k) application filed with the Food and Drug Administration the following year. Additionally, Lupin has indicated that it will be jumping into the biosimilar market with both feet, with early-stage development beginning for six other medications: aflibercept, denosumab, filgrastim, pertuzumab, pegfilgrastim, and ranibizumab. It believes that the combined global market for these agents is $24 billion.

Lupin has not announced any marketing partnerships, meaning that they may decide to go it alone, unlike some of the major players (e.g., Allergan–Amgen, Celltrion–Pfizer, Samsung Bioepis–Merck, etc). With its extensive generic portfolio, Lupin may believe that it has the sales force necessary to effectively market in the biosimilar space as well.

In other news…Novartis has announced an unusual clinical trial move. In its clinical trial program for secukinumab (Costentyx®), it has engaged in a head-to-head trial against both Humira® and its own (i.e., Sandoz’s) biosimilar version of adalimumab (GP2017).  The head-to-head trial with GP2017 focuses on the ankylosing spondylitis indication, whereas the Humira comparative-effectiveness trial involves patients with psoriatic arthritis.

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.

Biosimilar Rituximab Under FDA Review

Celltrion announced June 30, 2017 that it has submitted its 351(k) application to the Food and Drug Administration for approval of its biosimilar version of rituximab. This represents the first biosimilar application for rituximab, a monoclonal antibody to CD20.

The product, known during investigations as CT-P10, was approved in the European Union in February, and has been launched there as Truxima in late April. Clinical data have been presented on this biosimilar’s efficacy and safety in treating rheumatoid arthritis and advanced follicular lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma

If approved, Celltrion will market this product with Teva in North America, which signed a partnership agreement with Celltrion in October 2016 for this biosimilar agent to treat cancer and for CT-P6 (trastuzumab). The FDA application for trastuzumab is expected to be filed this summer. It is currently partnered with Pfizer to market its product Inflectra® (infliximab-dyyb) in the US and Canada.

Also in June, Sandoz received approval from the European Medicines Agency to market its own version of rituximab, called Rixathon™.

In other biosimilar news…Coherus Biosciences, which took hits from the FDA and its investors in the rejection of its pegfilgrastim biosimilar in June, laid off 51 workers (about 30% of its workforce) in an effort to cut costs. Coherus is working towards addressing the issues outlined in FDA’s Complete Response Letter on pegfilgrastim. In its letter, FDA did not require additional clinical studies. In the meantime, Coherus still is seeking to file its biosimilar etanercept for approval in Europe later this year, and its version of adalimumab in the US in early 2018. However, John Carroll reported that Coherus’ clinical development partner on etanercept in Japan, Daiichi Sankyo, has decided to pull out because of concerns that Coherus will not be able to manufacture the product.

No Clear Winner on Supreme Court’s Biosimilar Hearing Day

Despite the fact that the arguments at Wednesday’s Supreme Court wrestling match on the patent dance and 180-day notification issue went into overtime, there was no clear winner discernable in Amgen v. Sandoz.

Some observers believe that the Supreme Court justices were more comfortable with Amgen’s arguments, but the justices admitted that there was little clarity in trying to interpret the ambiguous language of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act. Justice Stephen Breyer stated his unfamiliarity with the technical aspects of the field and expressed concern about ruling on these issues.

Indeed, it is possible that the Court will not issue any ruling, since the case specifically arose around Sandoz’s launch of Zarxio®. Sandoz waited out the 180-day notification period before launching the product, which could prompt the justices to decide that the question is moot, avoiding the larger question of whether it should be enforced for future biosimilar launches.

Judicial experts and industry watchers will be pouring over the comments and questions from the justices for some time, until a final ruling is released (thought to be in July).

In other news… US sales of Janssen’s Remicade® slipped 2.4% to $1.18 billion, in the first full quarter following the launch of its biosimilar competitor, Pfizer’s Inflectra®. This does not necessarily reflect lost marketshare but Janssen’s concessions in matching the price of Inflectra to retain its preferred positioning. With a new competitor looming later this year (Renflexis™), Remicade’s earnings slide is expected to accelerate.

Amgen’s Enbrel® is also facing a less-rosy future, as the product’s sales in the anti-TNF category has begun to slip, independent of any active biosimilar competition. However, competition in the rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis categories from other products, especially interleukin inhibitors, has been stiff. First quarter 2017 sales of Enbrel in the US dropped 15% to $1.18 billion. Sandoz’s biosimilar etanercept, though approved by the FDA and beyond the 180-day notification period, has not yet launched due to patent litigation questions.

Predicting Coverage Changes in the Psoriasis Field: Will Biosimilars Play a Significant Role?

If you haven’t noticed, there is a good bit of action occurring on the plaque psoriasis treatment front. One long-used anti-TNF drug (Cimzia®) may be nearing approval of its  psoriasis indication, one new interleukin drug was recently approved (brodalumab), and another interleukin inhibitor is being considered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval later this year (guselkumab).

The general idea that the interleukin inhibitors have superior efficacy to the anti-TNF agents is becoming more accepted, but this is rarely reflected in the formulary preferences of health plans and insurers. Typically, these plans prefer both adalimumab (Humira®) and etanercept (Enbrel®). As with most therapeutic classes, this is the result of marketshare and net cost. AbbVie maintains the number 1 position, meaning that forcing a change or encouraging the use of an alternative preferred product is more difficult—moving significant marketshare to another agent will take considerable resources, and competitors’ pricing may not justify this battle.

Image result for Psoriasis Activity Severity Index

There is evidence that etanercept is not the most efficacious of the anti-TNF inhibitors for the treatment of moderate-to-severe psoriasis, but few health plans manage the autoimmune category by specific indication (other than arming themselves with the usual prior authorization criteria). For instance, it may be a stretch to assume that FDA approval of a new psoriasis indication for a covered biologic will suddenly force plans to change its formulary positioning of the product.

Assuming that the interleukins do represent a better chance for complete resolution of plaque psoriasis symptoms (i.e., PASI 100 vs. PASI 75), albeit at a higher net cost, it means that biosimilars for etanercept or adalimumab won’t change the clinical outlook for patients. For example, a new study announced at this week’s American Association of Dermatology meetings found that Lilly’s interleukin-17A inhibitor ixekizumab (Talz®) beat Janssen’s interleukin-12/23 inhibitor ustekinumab (Stelara®) in a head-to-head trial. The point is that anti-TNFs cannot match this level of efficacy (based on PASI scores): 83% of those treated with the interleukin-17A product achieved PASI 90 scores compared with 59% of those treated with the comparator; 49% of those treated with interleukin-17A achieved PASI 100 scores compared with 23% of those treated with the interleukin-12/23 inhibitor.

Yet health plans have not decided that the clinical benefits of the interleukins outweigh their higher costs, making them preferred products or available as first-line biologic agents. Marketshare and price are the usual sticking points.

Furthermore, the basic problem of biosimilar pricing still remains. In personal correspondence with several health plan pharmacy directors, the 15% discount offered for Pfizer’s Inflectra®, the only biosimilar anti-TNF available, is easily matched by Janssen for its Remicade® originator. Health plans could actually wind up paying more for an aggressive campaign to replace the originator brand with the biosimilar at current pricing.

This will certainly play a role in deciding whether Enbrel® can be knocked off its preferred positioning perch. With billions of dollars in annual revenue at stake, Amgen will surely take measures to match any modest discount from Sandoz on biosimilar etanercept (or at least get closer to that net-cost neighborhood with increased rebates). This may well be all that is needed to discourage biosimilar uptake on drug formularies.

Frustration Mounts as Sandoz’s Etanercept Biosimilar Launch Delayed into 2018

Call it irritation, exasperation, or frustration, but biosimilar manufacturers and payers alike are feeling it, as the fight over drug patents has barred the way to approval for yet another biosimilar for a costly biologic.

In this case, Sandoz’s Erelzi™, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration on August 30, 2016, has been caught in the patent litigation web. The originator drug, Amgen’s Enbrel® was first approved in 1998. Amgen asserts that its patent on the agent protects exclusivity until 2029, which would give Amgen 31 years of sole marketing rights. Despite the unlikely event that it can defend its patent for this extraordinary period, Sandoz has acknowledged that it will need to hold off launch of the biosimilar until at least 2018.

In a report from Reuters on January 25, Richard Francis, CEO of Sandoz, stated that the legal battle “won’t really reach a conclusion until 2018. That’s the frustration sometimes of the legal situation, but the way I look at that, we’re carving the landscape out as we go.”

Indeed, Sandoz has been at launch-delaythe forefront of legal battles, also fighting Amgen on the validity of the 180-day notification period, which is now being readied for US Supreme Court arguments in the Spring. The 180-day notification period for Erelzi was due to end in
late February 2017. After this time, Sandoz may still launch the product, at risk of financial penalties and loss of revenues, if the courts rule that Amgen’s remaining patent is valid.

However, the potential for savings on Enbrel, through biosimilar competition, continues to be a mirage for payers. The agent, which pulled in US revenues of $5 billion in 2015, has been the subject of numerous recent price increases. Health plans and insurers, while believing these costs untenable, may have little choice but to pay up or find ways to more aggressively restrict access.