A Conversation With Steven G. Avey, MS, RPh

In May 2016, I interviewed Steven Avey, Vice President, Specialty Pharmacy, MedImpact, for the Center for Biosimilars. That conversation speculated on the potential for biosimilars, having only recently experienced the launch of the first biosimilar in the United States, filgrastim-sndz. At the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy’s 2019 annual meeting last week, I sat down with Steve once again to gain his perspectives on changes in the biosimilar environment.

Biosimilars Review & Report: Congratulations on winning the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy Foundation’s Steven G. Avey Award! This is sort of a double honor, first having the award initially named after you, and then many years later, winning it yourself!

Steve, you’re considered one of the real thought leaders in managed care pharmacy. What do you consider to be the main challenges facing your colleagues today?

Steven Avey, PharmD: Thank you. There are many real challenges today. First of all, we have the potential for drug rebates to go away. It’s clear that something is going to be done (and we don’t know what that is), and it could apply not only to Medicare Part D, but possibly Medicaid and commercial. We will need to wait and see.

Steven Avey, MS, RPh

Another challenge relates to the Administration’s emphasis on reducing list prices for drugs. This will not only influence the industry, but managed care pharmacy as well.

That challenge is part of the ongoing concern about the cost of specialty medications (and continuing price increases), and the greater call from payers for a better understanding of the value that they’re getting from these medications. Are the people who are taking specialty medications actually getting real benefit?

BR&R: In addition to payers, employer purchasers and others have been requesting a better understanding of the value of specialty medications. This has been sought for 10 years or more. Are we any closer today in getting a grip on this?

Avey: I think we are. Many PBMs are getting more involved in data management regarding these medications. The better we get at analyzing the medical and pharmacy data together, the closer we will get to understanding the value of these specialty medications.

To give you an example, a PBM today is basically reviewed and assessed on what its financial picture looks like—are you able to bend that specialty cost trend? But if you don’t know what these specialty agents are really doing for the patient population, how can you tell if covering them is the right thing to do? In order for us to know that, we have to evaluate the medical and pharmacy data together and focus on the total cost of care of that individual member. Over time, you can say that our costs are either going down or not. Then, we can ask the question, am I using the right agent or should we be using those very expensive drugs for these patients?

Given the lack of the medical and pharmacy data, we just don’t know. That’s one of my greatest frustrations.

BR&R: Let’s switch to biosimilars. Do you believe that if the rebate safe harbor is removed for Medicare, payers will also stop seeking them?

Avey: Yes. It will definitely trickle into the commercial side. I can see a day in the not too distant future where we don’t rely at all on rebates. It will be a new world focused almost solely on list price reductions.

BR&R: Will that give biosimilar manufacturers an edge?

Avey: It will be a boon for biosimilar makers! When the rebate goes away, then all that remains is the list price. That will be a huge advantage for biosimilars.

BR&R: Well, if I’m a reference biologic maker, whose R&D costs were paid off a decade ago and whose profit margin is extremely high, I can still lower my WAC price considerably to compete with the biosimilars, right?

Avey: They can, but they will have to compete with three or even five biosimilars who do not have to spend millions of dollars on advertising or promotions like the innovators do to keep their brand’s exposure and visibility high. The innovator drug maker will do everything possible to avoid losing that high market share.

Now, I haven’t seen much of this in print, but payers are angry—they’re angry at these 10% to 20% increases in costs each year from the innovator drug manufacturers. As a payer, if a biosimilar is available, why would I want to support that innovator maker, who has dramatically raised costs for the last 10 years? That gives biosimilar manufacturers the advantage: “Hey, I’m the new guy helping you to reduce costs. How about supporting me instead?” I think many payers will act on this message.

BR&R: In our conversation in April 2016, that was the gist of what you said.

Avey: And I haven’t changed my mind.

BR&R: I asked, how soon are you going to drop the AbbVie contracts (when there was some expectation that biosimilars would be available before 2020), and you said, “As soon as humanly possible.” And you weren’t the only one who said this.

Avey: Absolutely. And now the timeline has been extended to 2023. This just made us all the more angry, because this is because AbbVie filed 100 patents on Humira®, which overwhelmed what the BPCIA was intended to address. The result is that AbbVie is going to make $16 billion a year (and more each year) for 4 more years before we’ll be able to see some competition for their market.

BR&R: Genentech (Roche) is coming out with subcutaneous forms of Herceptin® and Avastin®. Will these introductions change the way you position the biosimilars for these two cancer agents, when they are finally launched?

Avey: We’ve dealt with this 15 years: It’s really no different than what we’ve seen occur with conventional agents. Consider a sustained-release form of a brand that is approved around the time the generic for the immediate-acting formulary is launched. You look at the new product and ask, what does that premium in pricing buy us? Is it a site-of-care advantage? Maybe, but does it really offset the cost of using that more expensive agent? We generally decide to cover the lower-priced (albeit it not as convenient) dosage form. With biologics, the cost differential between the new agent and the biosimilar is very large, and there is very little advantage for the new subcutaneous formulation.

BR&R: We are seeing something similar playing out right now with pegfilgrastim. Most of the market has moved to the use of Amgen’s on-body injector OnPro®, and the biosimilars are being launched using prefilled syringes. To the extent that payers are interested in eroding OnPro’s marketshare, assuming the price difference is substantial, OnPro does represent a bit more patient convenience. Some payers may be thinking this way. To the extent that this will happen may predict some similar effect for the trastuzumab and bevacizumab markets.

Avey: You have to remember that payers are receiving a lot of criticism that we’re not doing a good job of supporting the biosimilars. Quite frankly, the biosimilar drugs that have been approved up until now are really covered under the medical benefit. We have a little trickle that can be covered under the pharmacy benefit. Payers have only so much bandwidth. They know that under present conditions, a new biosimilar has to build market share from scratch. Some have said, “You know, it’s not worth the effort. We have other fish to fry. We’re not going to get too excited yet about these products.”

We have an HMO client that did an amazing job moving market share away from Neupogen® to Granix®. But they own their prescribers and they can easily analyze the combined medical-pharmacy spend. They saw a dramatic lowering of expenditures.

BR&R: Are you expecting biosimilar products for trastuzumab and bevacizumab to be managed under pharmacy?

Avey: We see those drugs under the pharmacy benefit now. Remember that those drugs have a greater utilization than the other biosimilars that have been launched to date. I do think that they will attract a lot of attention. And if the rebates do go away, that takes the market share question right off the table. The biosimilars will do quite well.

BR&R: The four-letter suffixes: The FDA recently came out with an updated guidance, saying that the agency will no longer consider adding four-letter suffixes to previously approved reference agents. However, they will continue to add suffixes to newly approved biosimilars and interchangeable agents.

Avey: Everybody is trying to figure out what’s next here. When we look at biosimilars’ pharmacokinetic information, one biosimilar is going to be somewhat different than another. I don’t think it will be an insurmountable problem, but just a headache. We’ll just have to be more in synch with our specialty pharmacies to ensure that they stock and dispense this one biosimilar with this one four-letter code.

BRE&R: Have we made any progress from an educational standpoint here? Do providers and patients still think that a product with a four-letter code is not comparable to the originator brand? What is the level of discomfort today?

Avey: I’ve watched this carefully over the last year. I don’t think there will be huge angst from the payer. The prescribers and to some degree the patients that will need more educating to make them feel more comfortable. We will need better educational materials and communications for them. The situation is really no different than when we started instituting the generic substitution laws. We heard a lot of claims that docs will never prescribe generics, patients will never take them. We had to do a lot of educating to alleviate their fears, and to help prescribers understand that these drugs work like the brands work. At the end of the day, I don’t think that this will be a long-term challenge.

Does Mass Signing of Adalimumab Licensing Deals Add Up to Biosimilar Access Collusion?

As reported by the Center for Biosimilars, a union has filed a class-action lawsuit against AbbVie and the eight prospective biosimilar adalimumab makers who agreed to delay bringing their agents to market through a royalty arrangement.

Only Boehringer Ingelheim remains as a biosimilar maker who has an approved version of adalimumab but who has not signed on with AbbVie. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500 has filed the suit with the other manufacturers and AbbVie, claiming that by their actions, they are trying to “divide the market for adalimumab between Europe and the United States,” according to the Center for Biosimilars report.

This is an interesting question. The individual motivations of the first companies to come to agreement with AbbVie (Amgen, then Samsung Bioepis) included an end to interminable patent legislation in the US. They wanted the ability to immediately plan launches in Europe (starting in October 2018). The motivations of most other subsequent signees almost certainly was to not forfeit marketshare in Europe, which was needed to help sustain biosimilar development efforts for the US market. In fact, many of these prospective US manufacturers already had received approval in the EU.

AbbVie’s principal patents on Humira® expired in Europe in October 2018. The last of the principal patents are supposed to expire around 2023 in the US anyway. Was it necessary to arrange serial US launches as demonstrated in this link? Would patent litigation have continued well past the supposed patent expiration date? Knowing AbbVie, this is likely. Their several patents involving adalimumab use to treat individual diseases would provide AbbVie a basis for forging ahead with lawsuits that would have gained them additional billions of dollars in sales while the suits meandered toward conclusion.

Does this mean that access to Humira is accelerated through the signing of the royalty agreements, rather than delayed through acts of collusion? That is difficult to say. Although should the lone holdout—Boehringer Ingelheim—decide that it makes business sense to launch at risk, it could topple the carefully orchestrated structure of the agreements. Amgen believes that it will launch the first adalimumab biosimilar, and experience a few months of exclusivity in the US. At that point, Amgen (and every subsequent adalimumab biosimilar maker) would have to decide whether (1) to do the same or risk losing its advantage, (2) start working towards marketing plan B, or (3) cede the initial marketshare and its billions in revenue and wait it out. If Boehringer obtains its sought after interchangeability designation, that may well speed up the process.

Personally, I find it hard to believe that these individual acts represent premeditated collusion; although the resulting lack of access to the many biosimilar versions may look to others as an orchestrated maneuver.

Biosimilar Bytes

In the absence of really big biosimilar stories with far-reaching implications, let’s start with some interesting bits on biosimilars to begin this week.

First, insulin maker Eli Lilly asked the Food and Drug Administration a very interesting question, in comments on the agency’s guidelines on transitional drugs. Lilly requested clarification of the rules under which it might introduce an authorized brand of insulin (that is, a lower-priced version of an existing insulin brand). The insulins are one group of medicines that is scheduled to transition to regulation under the Public Health Services Act in 2020, and thus be subject to formal biosimilar competition.

Second, Boehringer Ingelheim, which received FDA approval to market its adalimumab biosimilar Cyltezo® in August 2017, received a positive ruling in its patent litigation case with AbbVie. A federal court judge ruled that AbbVie, which makes the originator product Humira® must turn over all papers related to the Humira patents. This may actually move the court case out of the discovery phase, according to Fierce Healthcare, and potentially closer to an actual, early biosimilar launch.   Third, Health Canada has decided not to add a four-character suffix onto the names of its biosimilars and biologics. Instead, it will rely on its specific drug identification number as well as the nonproprietary names to identify medications being taken. This of course, contrasts with the FDA’s practice. The FDA is the only major advanced regulatory system that requires the use of a suffix to distinguish biosimilars and their reference products. And it is not used by providers.

More Adalimumab News: Abbvie Signs a Licensing Deal With Coherus, Coherus Sues Amgen for Patent Infringement

The multitude of companies that have lined up to sign 2023 licensing agreements with Abbvie on sales of Humira® biosimilars has grown again. The latest biosimilar maker added to the list is Coherus Biosciences.

Coherus adalimumab biosimilar

Coherus has an investigational adalimumab biosimilar that completed a phase 3 trial in 2017 in patients with plaque psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. CHS-1420 was found to yield similar clinical outcomes compared with the reference product.

According to the press release from Coherus announcing the deal, the biosimilar will be available for marketing December 15, 2023. This will make it the eighth biosimilar version of adalimumab to enter the market, with Amgen entering first, in January of that year. As with the other deals signed by Abbvie, this signing concludes any patent litigation between the parties and Coherus will pay royalties to Abbvie on the sales of its biosimilar.

Coherus is expected to file a submission with the European Medicines Agency, though the timing of this filing has not been disclosed. Furthermore, it has not yet signed a deal with a marketing partner. In past conference calls, the biosimilar maker has indicated that it will not focus its resources on sales of its products outside the US.  

COHERUS SUES AMGEN OVER ADALIMUMAB PATENTS

To complicate matters a bit more, Coherus has launched a patent infringement suit against Amgen, believed to be the first of a biosimilar maker against another. Amgen’s Amjevita® was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2016, and has been for sale in the EU. Coherus intends to file for FDA approval in Q4 2019. Coherus contends that Amgen’s manufacture of Amjevita violates Coherus’ US patents 10,155,039; 10,159,732; and 10,159,733. These patents involve the creation of stable aqueous formulations of adalimumab.

Coherus seeks “damages adequate to compensate for past, present, and future infringement,” which could have implications for revenues from the European sales of Amgen’s biosimilar, because of its manufacture in the US. In addition, Coherus seeks an injunction from the court that permanently enjoins Amgen from engaging in further alleged infringement.  

Coherus President and CEO Denny Lanfear said in its January 25th press release, “Coherus recognized early on the central role intellectual property would play in advancing biosimilars to market. One important element of our IP strategy for advancing [CHS-1420] is reflected in the success we’ve achieved in patenting our innovations in the field of adalimumab formulation. We believe in the strength of our IP and we intend to protect it.”

Although generic manufacturers engaging in patent suits with competitors has occasionally occurred, this may be a first in the biosimilar community. I suppose it was only a matter of time.

A Profile of a Lesser-Known Player in the Biosimilar Space: Bio-Thera Solutions

On occasion, we profile some biosimilar manufacturers about whom our readers may not be familiar. 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 Guangzhou, China–based company, Bio-Thera Solutions.

Established in 2003, Bio-Thera Solutions “is dedicated to researching and developing innovative and biosimilar therapeutics for the treatment of cancers, autoimmune, cardiovascular diseases, and other serious medical conditions.” It claims several biosimilar and innovative therapies in its pipeline. According to its website, Bio-Thera’s leadership team members spent extensive time in the US. The CEO and Founder Shengfeng Li was also a founder of a California company Abmaxis, which was acquired by Merck, and worked at COR Therapeutics, which became part of Milennium. Chief Medical Officer Li Zhang worked for eight years at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center of Drug Evaluation and Research.  

Why you may be hearing more about this company: Bio-Thera has advanced one of its key molecules, a biosimilar of bevacizumab (reference product, Avastin®) into a phase 3 study against EU-licensed Avastin. The company’s objective is to file a 351(k) application for this product, BAT-1706, with the US FDA and the European Medicines Agency in 2020.

The company announced a new partnership with Mumbai, India-based Cipla Ltd, to market this product in emerging markets. It is not yet known whether Bio-Thera intends to partner with another organization to market in North America or attempt to build its own sales structure.

Other products in research and development include an adalimumab biosimilar (BAT-1406), for which an application for approval has been filed for the Chinese market, and a phase 1 tocilizumab (Actemra®) biosimilar (BAT-1806) for the treatment of autoimmune diseases. The company’s information does not indicate whether either of these products will be targeted for the US market. In a 2018 press release, Bio-Thera indicated that biosimilars of secukinumab (Cosentyx®), golimumab (Simponi®), and ustekinumab (Stelara®) were also in the pipeline. Regardless of the success of its bevacizumab and adalimumab biosimilars, the company seems to be well-aligned to address patent expirations of next-generation biologics.

In other biosimilar news… Regulatory Focus reported Pfizer’s announcement that the drug maker has reevaluated its biosimilar drug pipeline. It has dropped plans to develop 5 biosimilars in preclinical development. The products themselves were not disclosed and were not listed in earlier available version of Pfizer’s drug pipeline. Five other biosimilars in clinical development will continue moving forward, according to the company. This does not affect biosimilars already approved by the FDA. No reason for the decision was given, other than that this was part of an “R&E investment review.”

Pfizer Pulls One Biosimilar Adalimumab Application From the EMA

Earlier this month, Pfizer notified the European Medicines Agency (EMA) that it was withdrawing one of its two applications for approval of its biosimilar adalimumab. 

According to Pfizer’s Director of Global Media Relations, Thomas Biegi, the company had submitted two applications for this biosimilar, one for a limited set of indications, and the other for the full array of autoimmune indications of the reference product Humira®. Pfizer has decided to focus on gaining approval for the full slate of indications and withdrew the other application. Under the “skinny label,” the product would have been marketed as Fyzoclad™ in Europe. The potential brand name of the biosimilar if  approved with all of the reference product’s indications was not disclosed. In the US, the biosimilar is still known as PF-06410293 .

Although Pfizer would not confirm its plans for the US filing, phase 3 trial results for PF-06410293 have been published, establishing the biosimilar’s equivalency to Humira in terms of efficacy, safety, and immunogenicity.

PrintPfizer noted in its December 5th letter to EMA that their decision was not related to safety or efficacy. No doubt, Pfizer is surveying the heavy competition for adalimumab in Europe today. Pfizer did not elaborate on why the decision was made to submit applications for both the skinny label and the full set of indications.  

Pfizer signed a licensing deal with Abbvie on November 30 to market this adalimumab biosimilar in the US. It will be the sixth biosimilar to enter the market in 2023, based on this deal. Therefore, Pfizer must believe that a sixth biosimilar entrant to the US market at that time may still yield relevant revenues and marketshare. 

According to EvaluatePharma, Humira US sales estimates (published in 2018) for 2020 will be about $21 billion. By 2024, this company believes Abbvie’s share of the revenue will be a bit more than $12 billion (which is not much different than today’s figures). If this guess is accurate, that leaves $9 billion for seven or so biosimilar makers. If the guess is very inaccurate, and Abbvie is left with far less revenue because of the competition and falling prices, then any number of adalimumab biosimilar manufacturers could attain more than $1 billion in sales. 

In other biosimilar news…Amgen has announced the filing of a new biosimilar version of infliximab. ABP 710 was the subject of a phase 3 trial in patients with moderate-to-severe rheumatoid arthritis; researchers concluded that the drug was equivalent to Remicade® in terms of efficacy, safety and immunogenicity. Today’s filing would put this biosimilar on a path to a late Q3 or early Q4 2019 decision by the FDA. If approved, ABP 710 would be the fourth infliximab biosimilar approved in the United States (Pfizer’s Inflixi® is also approved but will only be sold overseas).

 

This post was updated and corrected on December 18, 2018.

United Kingdom to Save 75% on Annual Humira Spending

Since the October expiration of Abbvie’s EU patent, the potential Humirsavings seem to be truly mind-blowing. After implementing its contracts for adalimumab, the UK National Health Service (NHS) should save about three quarters of the $514 million (£400 million) it spends each year on this product alone.

In a fixed-budgeted system like that in the UK, the real implications of these savings become clear. According to the NHS, this additional $385 million (£300 million) will enable it to pay for 11,700 community care nurses or 19,800 treatments in patients with breast cancer.

And to earn these Humira SavingsHumira savings, the NHS does not exclude using the originator product Humira. It has signed contracts (with large price cuts) with Abbvie, as well as with biosimilar manufacturers Amgen, Biogen, Mylan and its partner Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin, and Sandoz.

Could the US see such savings on adalimumab in 5 years? Although the competition may be fierce when the brand loses patent protection in 2023, Abbvie has created a stepped-launch scenario with its licensing agreements. Rather than a jailbreak of competition, as we are seeing in the EU with patent expiration there in October 2018, the timing of the licensing agreements may limit the drop in per-unit price, at least for the first year or so.

After that time, payers will be able to choose from all biosimilar adalimumab manufacturers, which should then drive pricing down (or rebates up) considerably, resulting in long-sought lower net costs. However, this will happen only after years of price increases by Abbvie. Abbvie has not claimed, while it is drastically slashing its price in the EU, that it will be losing money. In part, that is because its US revenues on Humira will continue to be at over $10 billion a year. Furthermore, its revenues largely reflect pure profit on the manufacturing of the product today, as its research and development costs were covered 15 years ago and ongoing marketing costs are a tiny fraction of this figure.

Despite repeated protestations in the US that healthcare resources are not unlimited, our system is not based on a fixed budget. It is not disingenuous to consider savings in the terms posed by NHS. Defining the large savings in terms of other useful expenditures give people a concrete idea of how the money can be better used. The need for savings on drug expenditures is acute in this nation, and biosimilars will eventually lead the way.

Abbvie’s Humira Price Cuts Don’t Win the Business in Denmark

Just a few short weeks ago, Abbvie announced that it intended to rely on discounts as deep as 80% in parts of the EU to retain Humira® marketshare. One bellweather EU member country has signaled that it is signing tenders with other biosimilar adalimumab manufacturers.

Abbvie Loses Danish TenderThe Center for Biosimilars reported an Email exchange with the Danish national tendering authority Amgros, which manages the country’s bidding system. Amgros confirmed that Abbvie did not provide the best bid for two tenders for adalimumab (covering January to March 2019 and covering April to December 2019). Five companies (including Abbvie) competed for the national tenders. Although Abbvie did not rank best for pricing, agreements were signed with all five companies.

According to the report, a spokesperson for Amgro said, “In both tenders for adalimumab 40 mg, we have entered into agreements with 5 companies—the agreements are ranked according to price. In both tenders, we have signed an agreement with Abbvie for Humira—but Humira does not have the lowest price (ie, is not the winner with the highest ranking).”

The importance of this action may extend beyond Denmark, as several European countries utilize others’ pricing decisions as a benchmark for their own. For example, the price for adalimumab in Bulgaria by policy cannot exceed that in 17 other EU countries.

Momenta Signs Licensing Deal With Abbvie. Did It Have a Choice?

We previously reported that Momenta Pharmaceuticals reevaluated its biopharmaceutical strategy going forward, deciding to move forward only with its investigational adalimumab and aflibercept biosimilars. Yesterday, Momenta announced that it has joined the long queue of pharmaceutical manufacturers signing a biosimilar licensing deal with Abbvie, which will allow commercialization of M923, its biosimilar to Humira, should it obtain regulatory approval. Momenta’s licensing deal is the fifth one signed by prospective biosimilar marketers in the US.

This agreement was pretty much a no-brainer for Momenta. The company did not have the stomach for attempting either an extended patent fight or an at-risk launch. However, the biosimilar licensing agreement only allows Momenta to market its adalimumab biosimilar in the US after December 2023, which will make it the fifth Humira biosimilar that will launch under the licensing agreements (Table). The main patents for Humira have expired in Europe, and these agreements have generally allowed the European launches to occur as of October 16 of this year.

Of the manufacturers signing biosimilar licensing deals with Abbvie , only Amgen and Sandoz have earned FDA approval for Amjevita® and Hyrimoz®, respectively. And Boehringer Ingelheim is still duking out patent litigation with Abbvie in the courts over its approved biosimilar agent Cytelzo®, for which it hopes to receive an interchangeability designation. The second through fifth agents entering the fight will be likely pounding away at subsequently smaller slices of revenue.

Perhaps the most frustrating part is that Abbvie is running a lucrative game; it will collect royalties from all of these manufacturers in 2023 and beyond, which will help offset declining marketshare from its biggest revenue contributor.

 

In Abbvie’s Web: Who Has Signed Licensing Agreements for Biosimilar Adalimumab?

Company/Partner

Drug Name

Launch Date

Amgen

Amjevita*

January 2023

Samsung Bioepis/Merck

SB5

June 2023

Mylan/Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin Biologics

Hulio

August 2023

Sandoz

Hyrimoz*

September 2023

Momenta

M923

December 2023

*Received FDA Approval.

Note: This post was revised and corrected, November 8, 2018.