A Conversation With Doug Long, IQVIA

Doug Long, Vice President of Industry Relations at IQVIA (formerly QuintilesIMS), spoke with us about some of the intracacies of the filgrastim and pegfilgrastim marketplace, and regarding improving access to biosimilars in general. 

Doug Long
Doug Long, IQVIA

BR&R: Do you think interest by manufacturers in biosimilars is gaining or waning at this time?

Doug Long: It’s somewhere in between those two. A lot of people are staying in the game to see how it plays out. Maybe discouraged most accurately describes their feelings at this time. They are discouraged, because there are 17 approved products but only 5 are available. And the uptake of those on the market is not that great, particularly compared with the uptake in Europe.

BR&R: I can see how manufacturers and payers would be discouraged right now. You’re right, in the European market, we’ve seen a great deal of uptake and significant discounting as well. So many factors affect biosimilar coverage and uptake. It may also relate to the individual biosimilar’s disparate marketplace situations.

DISTINCT MARKETS FOR BIOSIMILAR DRUGS

In the US, based on the utilization numbers seen today, do you believe the infliximab, filgrastim, or pegfilgrastim markets will best characterize how other biosimilars (e.g., Avastin® or Herceptin) will perform when available?

Long: Well, with the filgrastim molecule, you need to look at both filgrastim and pegfilgrastim, and their routes of administration (prefilled syringes and on-body injectors). Granix® and Zarxio® have the majority of the dollar share on the filgrastim side. It’s too early to tell on the pegfilgrastim side, though Amgen has a 61% share of that Neulasta® molecule with its Onpro® formulation. The addressable market for the molecule is really only the remaining 39%.

You also have to make a distinction between how much of the market is controlled by the pharmacy benefit managers compared with the hospital group purchasing organizations (GPOs) or buying groups. Most of the filgrastim and pegfilgrastim is controlled by the hospital buying groups, and that’s also going to be the case for the cancer-treating biosimilars. There’s no doubt in my mind that when Humira® or Enbrel® are available, the PBMs will embrace the biosimilars. There are just so more complexities on the hospital side of the market that it makes it more difficult for them to move towards the biosimilars.

DEEPER INTO THE FILGRASTIM/PEGFILGRASTIM SCENARIOS

BR&R: There’s an interesting situation brewing in the filgrastim market. The success of Granix and really Sandoz’s Zarxio penetrating the market has contributed significantly to the drop in total sales revenues for filgrastim sales combined. However, how much of this decrease is attributable to migration to pegfilgrastim, and Neulasta Onpro in particular?

Long: Sure, look at their revenues today. Filgrastim is at $611 million in annual sales and pegfilgrastim is at $4.3 billion. Of that $4.3 billion, Onpro accounts for 61%.

BR&R: At Coherus’ fourth-quarter earnings conference call, their CEO indicated that he thought the Onpro marketshare might be vulnerable to the pegfilgrastim biosimilar, which is available today in prefilled syringes. Obviously, that would mean selling Undenyca® at a more enticing price, below the 33% discount currently offered. Do you think that Onpro sales erosion is likely or does the formulation offer real value?

Long: That could work, but the thing about Onpro is that when you finish your chemotherapy for the week, they put the injector on you and you don’t have to go back to the doctor’s office for a pegfilgrastim injection the next day. That’s one of the reasons it is as popular as it is—it reduces hospital and doctor expenses at the end of the day, and is more convenient for the patient.

BR&R: Biosimilar manufacturers like Coherus have expressed interest in developing its own on-body injector for its biosimilar. It seems to present distinct advantages. Does that mean that the biosimilars will be relegated to fighting only for that prefilled syringe market, the remaining 39% of utilization?

Long: It’s probably too early to say. Fulphilia® has only been marketed since July, and the other one [Udenyca] was launched only recently. We’ll have to see what kind of uptake it gets. Also, we’ll have to see what happens when other players come to the market. The more drugs you have available, the more share erosion from the originator you’ll likely see. Yet that did not happen with Remicade…

BR&R: That may be more of a special situation, considering the actions taken by Janssen Biotech to prevent coverage of both Pfizer and Merck’s products.

The filgrastim/pegfilgrastim markets are also different for that reason: Amgen did not aggressively defend their market share on the prefilled syringe originator products (i.e., Neupogen® and Neulasta). Rather, they focused on getting conversions to Onpro. So the biosimilar manufacturers were not facing aggressive defensive tactics, like those employed by Janssen. 

Long: Yes, but they will defend Onpro as much as they can.

BR&R: And Amgen established Neulasta and the Onpro formulation at the same price point.

Long: It made sense. It was a good defense mechanism.

BR&R: It does force the biosimilar manufacturers to work harder to gain business.

AN UNCLEAR FUTURE

BR&R: The Administration has several initiatives that may directly or tangentially affect the biosimilar market. These include the Medicare International Pricing Index, the move to place Part B drugs into Part D (and allow step therapy and other UM tools), the reevaluation of drug rebate safe harbors, and of course, the individual components of the Biosimilar Action Plan. Do you think this will ultimately result in artificial price deflation? Would that be helpful or harmful to biosimilar makers?

Long: That’s a question that I really don’t have an answer for. Who knows what’s going to happen? People have started to make moves to reduce WAC prices, like Amgen on their PCSK9 inhibitor and Gilead on their hepatitis C treatment. Gilead created an “authorized generic” to reduce its price dramatically.

People are starting to play around with it. Maybe to get adopted, a biosimilar maker may actually have to raise their drug’s WAC price higher than the originator, and then give a larger rebate.

Biosimilar Maker Adello Biologics Bought by Pharma Research Company

The assets of biosimilar drug developer Adello Biologics were sold to Kashiv Pharma, LLC, the companies announced on January 4, 2019. The new company will now be known as Kashiv Biosciences, with its headquarters in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

Adello Biologics

Adello Biologics had been one of a handful of “pure-play” biosimilar companies, in that it was not involved with any other pharmaceutical sectors. Its two biosimilar products in most advanced development (filgrastim and pegfilgrastim) would be subject to heavy competition if approved. The acquisition by Kashiv now broadens the pipeline. In a press release, Kashiv cited “As a result of the acquisition, Kashiv BioSciences’ broad business offering includes drug delivery platforms incorporating delayed-release technology and gastric retention systems that improve the efficacy and safety of known drugs; a 505(b)(2) pipeline of seven development products targeting unmet clinical needs.” It does not appear that any of the 505(b)(2) agents are currently being evaluated for approval by the FDA.

A privately held company, it had been known as Therapeutic Proteins International since November 2016. Adello filed for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for its filgrastim biosimilar in September 2017, with a decision expected in the third quarter of 2018. The delay in approval lends speculation to the possibility that FDA issued a complete response letter to the company. This filing was based on the submission of phase 1 data only. In March 2018, Amgen filed a lawsuit against Adello in New Jersey District Court, claiming patent violations and that Adello failed to follow the necessary biosimilar development protocol outlined by law.

The company’s pegfilgrastim biosimilar (TPI-120) had completed two phase 1 studies by the beginning of 2018, and it was hoped that the company would submit its FDA 351(k) application before the end of the year. Executive Vice President & Chief Business Officer Pavan Handa confirmed in an E-mail that the pegfilgrastim program “is in active development and we continue to make significant progress towards a filing. ”

Adello’s journey highlights the potential financial problems that biosimilar-focused companies may face. As a privately owned company, its capitalization was likely limited, and delays in reaching the market become even more critical for companies without other revenue-generating products. The deal with Kashiv breathes new life into the enterprise, but Kashiv, too, does not yet have an approved biosimilar product (nor approved innovative drugs) to its credit. Before the acquisition, Kashiv had focused on “applying novel technologies to improve the delivery of compounds with otherwise problematic physical and/or chemical properties” and on abuse-deterrent technologies for opioid products.

It appears to us that the purchase of Adello by Kashiv, another private company, is an effort at doubling down, to attain more immediate revenue from drug sales.

Pfizer Gets FDA’s Green Light on Its Filgrastim Biosimilar

Pfizer's Biosimilar Filgrastim
FILE PHOTO – The Pfizer logo is seen at their world headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

On July 20, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the second biosimilar version of filgrastim. Pfizer’s filgrastim biosimilar is named Nivestym™ (filgrastim-aafi).

The originator product, Amgen’s Neupogen®, has steep competition from two other products (Sandoz’s Zarxio® [filgrastim-sndz] and Teva’s Granix® (tbo-filgrastim]). Granix was approved as a follow-on biologic, before the biosimilar pathway was implemented.

The FDA granted Nivestym the following indications:

  • To decrease the incidence of infection, as manifested by febrile neutropenia, in patients with nonmyeloid malignancies receiving myelosuppressive anti-cancer drugs associated with a significant incidence of severe neutropenia with fever.
  • For reducing the time to neutrophil recovery and the duration of fever, following induction or consolidation chemotherapy treatment of patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
  • To reduce the duration of neutropenia and neutropenia-related clinical sequelae, e.g., febrile neutropenia, in patients with nonmyeloid malignancies undergoing myeloablative chemotherapy followed by bone marrow transplantation (BMT).
  • For the mobilization of autologous hematopoietic progenitor cells into the peripheral blood for collection by leukapheresis.
  • For chronic administration to reduce the incidence and duration of sequelae of severe neutropenia (e.g., fever, infections, oropharyngeal ulcers) in symptomatic patients with congenital neutropenia, cyclic neutropenia, or idiopathic neutropenia.

Although a launch date was not announced for Pfizer’s filgrastim biosimilar, the company’s press release stated that “Nivestym is expected to be available in the US at a significant discount to the current wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) of Neupogen.”

Rather than competing aggressively for the filgrastim market, Amgen seems to be focusing its efforts on its pegfilgrastim brand, a longer-lasting version. Specifically, it is seeking to move its utilization to the Onpro formulation of Neulasta®. The first biosimilar to pegfilgrastim was approved in June (Mylan and Biocon’s Fulphila™).

A Test for Adello and for FDA’s Biosimilar Approval Pathway

We are on the verge of a few eagerly awaited decisions by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Celltrion and its partner Pfizer expect to hear news on their trastuzumab biosimilar in April, as does Celltrion separately on its rituximab biosimilar. These should make a significant impact on the evolution of biosimilars in the US and on marketshare penetration, but the FDA’s decision around the fourth filgrastim agent from a lesser- known player could be even more important to the industry.

One of the critical areas that differentiate 351(k) from 351(a) biologic licensing applications (BLAs) is that the FDA has emphasized the primary importance of evidence supporting the pharmacokinetic, pharmacodynamic, and structural similarity of the biosimilar to the originator product. In comparison, the standard BLA requires a sufficient catalog of data from phase 1, 2, and 3 clinical trials that point to the efficacy and safety of the biologic. To many in the biosimilar field, the inverted pyramid illustration left is very familiar.

351(k) biosimilar approval requirements

To date, the biosimilars brought to the application or registration process have been evaluated on their physiochemical characterization as well as the results of phase 2 and/or 3 clinical trials in at least one target indication. This is where it becomes interesting: Adello Biologic’s 351(k) application for filgrastim comprises the physiochemical biosimilarity evidence, but in terms of clinical data, only phase 1 studies were performed. That is, these studies included healthy volunteers only. And the studies further demonstrated the comparable pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of this biosimilar and Neupogen®, the originator G-CSF drug.

This decision was not made in a vacuum. The manufacturer consulted with the FDA, as all prospective biosimilar makers do, on the requirements of their data packages. And the FDA accepted the application in September 2017. This fits with the agency’s policy to place ever-increasing weight on the physiochemical data as part of its “totality of evidence” approach. In its 2015 guidance, the FDA stated, “As a scientific matter, a comparative clinical study will be necessary to support a demonstration of biosimilarity if there is residual uncertainty about whether there are clinically meaningful differences between the proposed product and the reference product based on structural and functional characterization, animal testing, human [pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic] data, and clinical immunogenicity assessment.” With Adello’s filgrastim, one assumes that the FDA made the decision that the studies in healthy volunteers was sufficient.

Since Adello would be the second filgrastim biosimilar approved (also the fourth filgrastim on the market), the FDA may decide to dispense with an Advisory Committee meeting to discuss publicly the merits and issues with the agent. However, because this could be the first biosimilar approved without phase 2 or 3 clinical data, the FDA may decide on a conservative course, allowing the clinical community and the public to weigh in.

One could see how the lack of clinical data in actual patients will give pause in an Advisory Committee session. A patient undergoing cancer chemotherapy will likely have a different immunologic status, it can be argued, which may result in immunogenicity problems in real-world use. For agents already marketed in Europe, such issues may be absent and can be considered as part of the totality of evidence. Adello, however, does not market their biosimilar elsewhere.

Even if the Advisory Committee does not recommend (or a slight majority recommends) approval, the FDA could decide to license the drug anyway, in view of its stated policy to get biosimilars to market more rapidly. If this is the case, it would help ensure that R&D costs remain as low as possible for prospective biosimilar manufacturers, without the requirement of performing expensive phase 2 or 3 trials.

The question of whether an Advisory Committee will be held is still unknown. In response to queries, an FDA spokesman offered that the agency had “previously articulated a general expectation that a proposed biosimilar to a given reference product would be discussed at an Advisory Committee meeting if a proposed biosimilar to that reference product had not previously been discussed at an AC meeting. Subsequent proposed biosimilars to a given reference product may also be discussed at an AC meeting if FDA determines that there are specific issues to discuss.” In other words, no one knows. A query to Adello was not answered as of the publication of this article. Any updates will be noted in this space.

 

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.

 

News in the Courts on Biosimilars

According to a Reuters report, Janssen Biotech withdrew its patent lawsuit against Samsung Bioepis on November 10. The suit alleged infringement in the manufacture of Samsung’s infliximab biosimilar.

Related imageThe action, which was filed in U.S. District Court of New Jersey, means that Merck and Samsung, which launched Renflexis™ in July, is no longer at risk for revenues earned in the sale of its biosimilar. If Janssen had maintained the lawsuit and later earned a victory in the courts, it could have been awarded a large percentage of Samsung’s Renflexis revenues.

In a separate case, an appeals court found that the Southern District of Florida was correct in its decision clearing Apotex Inc of any patent infringement in its development of biosimilars of Amgen’s Neulasta® and Neupogen®. The initial ruling, in September 2016, helped cleared the path for the biosimilars to reach the market. However, the organization’s filgrastim biosimilar was first filed in February 2015, without an approval. Its pegfilgrastim biosimilar was filed earlier, in December 2014, but has not advanced through the Food and Drug Administration’s 351(k) approval process. Apobiologix is the Apotex subsidiary that would manufacturer and market the biosimilars in the US, should they gain approval.

Evidence to Support Zarxio Use Presented at AMCP

Two posters presented at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy bolstered the case for moving away from the use of the originator filgrastim product Neupogen®.

In a study from Magellan Rx Management, Scottsdale, AZ, the researchers grouped both Zarxio® and Granixzarxio® together as alternatives to the originator filgrastim in the granulocyte-colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) category as supportive oncological care. They studied the effect of a step edit, requiring the use of either Zarxio or Granix first, and its effect on utilization trends and cost savings among 2.7 million covered lives.

The step edit was implemented in October 2016 and the results for the fourth quarter of 2016 were compared with utilization and cost data from the first three quarters of that year. In terms of utilization, the marketshare of Neupogen dropped from 18% in early 2016 to only 2% by the third quarter of 2017. As expected, the drop in utilization occurred just after the step edit was introduced a year ago. The combined marketshare of Granix and Zarxio jumped from 9% to 21% over that time, but the dominant player in the G-CSF space, Neulasta® (pegfilgrastim), maintained utilization, rising from 73% to 77%. Over the one-year period since the step edit was introduced, the authors calculated a cost savings of $662,278; the cost savings in the quarter after the policy change was $106,980, or approximately 8% of the total spent for the G-CSF category.

The authors noted that the cost savings were calculated using wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) not average sales price (ASP), and manufacturer discounts or rebates were not considered in the estimates.

The second poster, sponsored by Sandoz, was a retrospective claims analysis of the incidence of febrile neutropenia in patients receiving chemotherapy who were treated with Zarxio or Neupogen. This study covered 13 months of claims (from Optum) from 162 patients taking Zarxio compared with 3,297 receiving Neupogen. The groups did not differ significantly in terms of demographics, insurance, or tumor type.

The researchers found that the incidence of neutropenia (in addition to fever and/or infection) was nonsignificantly greater in those receiving the biosimilar compared with the reference product (2.3% vs. 1.7%, respectively).

Rituximab and Filgrastim Biosimilars Being Reviewed by FDA

Today, Sandoz announced the acceptance by the Food and Drug Administration of its application for a biosimilar rituximab. This biosimilar was approved by the European Medicines Agency in June 2017.

The manufacturer included a phase 3 trial of the agent to treat follicular lymphoma, one of two Hodgkin’s lymphomas for which the originator product is approved to treat. Its pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamics studies were conducted in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, another major indication.

fdaThis marks the second rituximab biosimilar to be submitted to the FDA; Celltrion’s application for its Truxima™ brand was submitted in June. Sandoz’s Zarxio® has been marketed since 2015, and Erelzi® (etanercept-szzs) was approved in August 2016 but is not yet marketed.

In addition, Adello Biologic announced that their 351(k) application for a new biosimilar filgrastim was sent to FDA on September 11. No FDA decision date was announced, but assuming a smooth ride through the process, a decision may be expected around the third quarter of 2018.

This is Adello’s first biosimilar brought to FDA application. According to its website, Adello is currently in clinical trials with a pegfilgrastim biosimilar, with preclinical development on a version of adalimumab.

Coverage Uptake: Zarxio® Covered by 94% of Employer-Sponsored Plans

An analysis released by Avalere on July 11 showed that coverage of biosimilar filgrastim is the rule, not the exception, by employer-sponsored plans.

Avalere surveyed medical or pharmacy executives from 45 health plans and insurers, representing 183 million lives, about coverage for their commercial products. They found that 94% had placed Zarxio (filgrastim-sndz) on formulary. Forty-two percent of the plans responding to this online survey indicated that Zarxio was a preferred brand. This is on par with the competitors (Granix®, Neupogen®, and Neulasta®), one of which is preferred for 45% of the plans surveyed.

In the report, titled “Policy 360: Biosimilars—US Payer Perspective,” Avalere found that coverage in these same employer-sponsored plans for Inflectra® (infliximab-dyyb) was trailing, with 42% covering the biosimilar but only 7% listing it as preferred on their 2017 formularies. Pfizer has only been available for 7 months, so these numbers are expected to rise over time.

Unsurprisingly, health plans ranked relative cost as the number 1 factor in coverage decision making for biosimilars (95%), followed by efficacy (80%), safety (73%), and existing contracts (53%).

In other news: Mylan and its partner Biocon hit a stumbling block to approval of its trastuzumab biosimilar in Europe (application filed in 2016). French inspectors cited Biocon’s manufacturing facility in Bangalore, India, for a number of violations that need to be corrected before the partners can receive authorization to market from the Europeans Medicines Agency. An inspection of the facility, conducted in March, also revealed problems that could affect the production of Mylan and Biocon’s pegfilgrastim biosimilar. The companies had filed for Food and Drug Administration approval of both products, with trastuzumab being reviewed by the Oncology Advisory Committee on July 13. It is not known whether a potential US-licensed version of the drug will be produced at the same Bangalore plant.

Are 2 Biosimilars to the Same Originator Product Biosimilar to Each Other?

In Europe, several manufacturers are marketing approved biosimilars to the same originator product. In fact, 7 manufacturers compete for the biosimilar filgrastim market, 5 biosimilar versions of epoetin are sold, and 3 biosimilars of infliximab seek marketshare from Remicade®. In the US, this situation is not a reality yet. It will be one day, however, and it raises a couple of important questions.

We know that the biosimilars are not exactly the same structurally as the originator products, but how similar may they be to each other? In other words, at some point, payers will prefer one biosimilar version of filgrastim over another one, as some do currently with Zarxio® versus Neupogen®. We can assume that with 3 filgrastim biosimilars sold in the US, payers will seek to leverage 1 against the others and make it their preferred or only available form of filgrastim available. However, is another manufacturer’s version of filgrastim biosimilar to Zarxio? We can also assume that the new manufacturer’s product has received US Food and Drug Administration approval through testing for comparability only with the originator product—not against Zarxio. How about compared with Teva’s product tbo-filgrastim (a follow-on biologic, not a biosimilar according to the regulatory and statutory rules)?

What does this mean for switching products, much less interchangeability? Is one biosimilar interchangeable with another? Based on what we know about the FDA, the answer is likely no, as the agency seems to be having difficulty devising interchangeability guidelines for a biosimilar and its originator product.

Why is this important? Consider the patient with Crohn’s disease in 2019 who changes health plans. The patient was receiving biosimilar A, and the new plan covers only biosimilar B. Maybe he or she needs to enroll in a new plan in 2020, and the reverse is true. Regardless of whether we like it, that patient may be unintentionally providing real-world evidence of interchangeability.