The Implications of Celltrion’s Development of a Subcutaneous Infliximab

Celltrion received approval today in the European Union (EU) for its subcutaneous (SC or SubQ) form of infliximab (Remsima®, marketed as Inflectra® in the US) for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Currently, infliximab is available only as an office-based infusion.

Infliximab SC

The very interesting aspect to this is that the current 351(k) regulatory pathway does not provide guidance on the possibility of a new formulation of an existing biosimilar drug. In the EU, the subcutaneous formulation is not treated as a biosimilar, because such a form is not available as a reference product. A consequence of this is that regulatory extrapolation is not possible; Celltrion will likely need clinical studies for any indications it seeks, like a regular 351(a) submission. This would differ from a pegfilgrastim biosimilar seeking to gain approval for an on-body injector form similar to Neulasta OnPro® (the reference product).

An SC form of infliximab could be a very valuable niche in the US, as payers can place this in the pharmacy benefit as a self-administered injectable (to the chagrin of providers who were earning administration fees, at least). It thus could be managed through the additional pharmacy benefit tools at hand, and could serve as a preferred version of the medication. It should be noted that the dosage of the SC form is slightly different than the infusible form.

This scenario once again raises the weird and unwieldy specter of the nature of biosimilarity. What is biosimilar to what? As a 351(a) submission (if Celltrion takes that route in the US), a federal agency may (or may not) consider Inflectra SC to be clinically equivalent to Remicade®. It certainly couldn’t be interchangeable though, based on current regulatory guidelines and despite the NOR-SWITCH studies conducted with the infusible formulation. Will Celltrion go to lengths to prove that Inflectra SubQ is biosimilar or equivalent to Inflectra? It will almost certainly have to undergo this exercise if the manufacturer expects providers or payers to switch patients to it.

In clinical studies of the SC version in patients with RA, those taking the SC version experienced even greater increases in ACR 20, 50, and 70 improvements than on the IV form alone. I suppose that might qualify it for the “bio-better” label. (http://www.celltrion.com/ko-kr/business/newdrug)

From a pharmaceutical sales standpoint, this also raises a couple of additional questions: If Celltrion charges a premium for this agent over the IV form, will payers acquiesce to gain pharmacy benefit control over the product? Will patients prefer the SC formulation? Will plans and insurers keep both formulations available for patients who cannot self-inject? Or will they encourage initial use of the IV form before moving to an SC version (will this become ACR standard of care?)

Will Celltrion spend the money needed to fund phase 3 trials for each major indication (including Crohn’s disease [adult and pediatric], ulcerative colitis, RA, plaque psoriasis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis)? Their study in Crohn’s disese is just underway.

From a payer’s perspective, will health plans and insurers allow these off-label indications, if the cost is demonstrably lower than the IV version? In other words, payers may extrapolate on their own if they find that the pricing and pharmacy benefit management of infliximab is worthwhile.

As can be seen, the effort to produce an SC version of infliximab raises far more questions than can be answered today. The difficulty in successfully introducing the SC must be high, or one might have thought Janssen wouldn’t have missed on the opportunity to gain another patent many years ago!

How Confusing Is Biologic and Biosimilar Substitution?

Evidence is mounting, especially from Europe that biosimilars to a single reference product result in the same clinical outcomes, with no appreciable safety issues. Evidence of this type from America will take time to accumulate, because competition in categories with multiple biosimilar options has been much more limited.

British Columbia biosimilar uptake

The recent announcement in British Columbia of the province’s decision to switch patients with inflammatory bowel disease from Remicade® to biosimilars has once again inflamed some passions. This is part of a broader effort by the Canadian province to increase utilization of biosimilars to gain economic savings. The Canadian GI Society, an advocacy group, published a letter firmly against the plan. They believe only the physician and patient should decide whether a biosimilar switch should occur. The British Columbia government, on the other hand, will pay for either Renflexis® or Inflectra® but not Remicade® after March 5, 2020. Even if patients have been taking the reference product, they will have to switch to one biosimilar or the other.

The Biosimilar Switching Argument

With medical experience supporting the case for switching, the argument by this Canadian advocacy group is less than solid. There may be the need for a medical exception for the infrequent patient taking infliximab, but these drugs can be effectively switched: there is no meaningful difference in effectiveness and safety outcomes on a population-wide basis among infliximab choices.

That said, here is where the supporting arguments get somewhat messy. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a biosimilar based on its equivalence to a reference product (not to other biosimilars). At the implementation of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act, a biosimilar manufacturer has been required to show that its biosimilar was comparable in physiochemical, pharmacokinetic, and clinical studies to a designated reference product (i.e., US-licensed version of the originator). That required some manufacturers to first prove the equivalence of the US-licensed version to the EU-approved originator in a “bridging study.” This requirement was borne from the understanding that the US- and EU-licensed originator biologics make not be exactly the same either—biosimilars of each other. With more experience, the FDA has backed away from this requirement, understanding that the clinical outcomes differences between two licensed originator products are negligible.

The Laws of Transitivity and Biosimilar Switching

However, the FDA has not revised its opinion on whether two drugs proved to be biosimilar to one reference product are biosimilar to each other. Nor whether an interchangeable biosimilar might be considered interchangeable with other biosimilars. The answer remains: The evaluation process does not require such testing to gain basic biosimilar approval. In other words, the evidence did not yet exist.

This all relates to the basic premise of so-called “nonmedical substitution.” The issue is whether a payer-initiated change with a noninterchangeable biosimilar is considered to be more like therapeutic or generic substitution. Therapeutic interchange or substitution takes place when a drug is switched for another in the same category (e.g., switching Lipitor for a different statin rather than the generic atorvastatin).

Therapeutic Interchange vs. Biologic Substitution

A payer would be hard pressed to justify an unauthorized switch of adalimumab for infliximab. They are very different TNF-inhibitors. Patient outcomes would likely be affected in some way. Are Inflectra and Renflexis—different infliximab biosimilars—to be considered wholly different biologics? Because the FDA does not endorse that Inflectra and Renflexis are biosimilar to each other, it does imply (whether wrongly or rightly) that they are different biologic brands. If this was considered in the traditional sense, switching might be construed as an example of therapeutic interchange.

Framing the argument in this manner can drive patient and provider resistance to biosimilar uptake. Misinformation? Rather, I believe that this is an embodiment of the ambiguity of our regulatory policies. Certainly, payers don’t subscribe to it; they cover one versus another based more on net costs—certainly not on clinical outcome differences. For payers, it is more black and white; for certain other groups, much remains gray, especially when people believe more decision-making authority is being challenged. Only greater biosimilar clinical utilization, proof of savings, and better dissemination of education about this experience will change advocacy’s perspective .

A Profile on Lesser-Known Player in the Biosimilar Space: Formycon AG

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 updated post, we highlight a German company, Formycon AG, which has eyes on the US marketplace.

Formycon acquired Scil Technology GmbH in 2012, and hired a new CEO the following year. Carsten Brockmeyer, PhD, has extensive experience in the biosimilar field, previously helping Hexal Biotech to develop EPO and filgrastim biosimilars for the European market.

Why you may be hearing more about this company: Formycon has two principal biosimilar targets, ranibizumab and ustekinumab. The company disclosed that “it successfully completed a Type IV pre-submission meeting with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2018 and clarified other pivotal issues. The filing with the FDA for the approval of FYB201 is expected at the beginning of the fourth quarter of this year.” A filing for the European Medicines Agency is planned for 2020. A phase 3 clinical trial of this agent was completed in June 2018. In the development of this agent, Formycon partnered with Bioeq GmbH, but it is unclear whether a marketing partner exists for a possible US launch.

The patent for ustekinumab (Stelara®) expires in 2023 (US) and 2024 (Europe). It is partnered with Aristo Pharma GmbH on the manufacture and testing of this interleukin 12/23 inhibitor (also known as FYB 202).

Formycon is in the early stages of developing a phase 3 trial for its biosimilar version of Eylea® (aflibercept or FYB 203), the next generation of macular degeneration treatment. It is partnered with Santo Holding GmbH on the development of aflibercept.

In other biosimilar news… Amgen decided to pull its EMA application for its infliximab biosimilar, likely due to market competition. The company has not taken similar action with regard to an FDA application for the same product, ABP 710. Considering that neither Samsung Bioepis or Pfizer failed to gain traction in the US marketplace for infliximab, Amgen must think that some biosimilar infliximab marketshare growth in the US is still possible.

Implications of UnitedHealthcare’s Preference of Remicade and Neulasta to Their Biosimilars

In a significant coverage move, UnitedHealthcare (UHC) has signaled that its commercial and Medicaid medical policies on infliximab and pegfilgrastim have changed direction in favor of the reference drugs.

UnitedHealthcare and biosimilars

Effective July 1, 2019, approximately 22.5 million commercial and 6 million Medicaid UHC members will not be able to access these biosimilars without trying the reference agents first (virtually eliminating biosimilar use). Both infliximab and pegfilgrastim are covered generally under the medical benefit as office-based infusions, and preferring Remicade® and Neulasta® (including OnPro®).

This move is important for a few reasons. First, it reverses UHC’s previous position, which preferred the biosimilars over the two originator products.

Second, it promotes a prior authorization practice that makes little sense—since the biosimilar and reference products are expected to work in the same way and produce similar outcomes, why would a patient who fails Remicade then be given Renflexis® instead of a different biologic medicine like adalimumab, ustekinumab, or others?

Third, it implies that both manufacturers have further reduced the net cost of these drugs to UHC and its customers, undercutting the current deals offered by the biosimilar manufacturers. If accurate, this is a positive development in that infliximab and pegfilgrastim prices are continuing to come down due to competition. It would also indicate that Amgen, maker of the pegfilgrastim originator Neulasta, is beginning to defend its prefilled syringe market more aggressively. This is significant, because Amgen had been more focused on defending the marketshare of its on-body injector (Onpro), which is dominant. Alternatively, Amgen may be bundling its filgrastim and pegfilgrastim products more effectively. Coherus and Mylan had previously announced pricing that would be one-third less than the list price of Neulasta. Coherus had specifically indicated that it would be seeking targeted deals with payers to ensure at least parity position for its prefilled syringe product Udenyca®. It did not, however, mention UHC as one of those payers.

Fourth, this move puts a further dent into the sustainability of the US biosimilar market. Obviously, preferring the originators will make access to their biosimilars considerably more expensive for patients. It can only promote greater price cuts by the competing brands and thus reduce profit margins for the biosimilar manufacturers. In the US, biosimilar makers need a little encouragement to stay in the market, as very few have had positive experiences to date (e.g., Pfizer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Momenta, Apobiologix to name a few).

No one denies the benefits of the increased competition meaning a halt to price increases and significantly lower net costs, but those benefits need to be extended across other biologic categories. Without a viable biosimilar industry, access to lower-cost biologics can only happen through price controls.

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.

Even Today, Patients and Payers Hold the Key to Biosimilar Uptake Success

Reading the white paper co-published March 19 by the US-based Biosimilars Forum and UK-based Medicines for Europe highlighted for me the importance of an essential roadblock to increased biosimilar uptake in the US.

The white paper outlined structural market changes needed in the US to gain comparable conversion of marketshare in the European market. Without a doubt, barrier number 1 is the patent thicket erected by biologic makers and the resulting patent litigation. This causes barrier number 2: the signing of licensing arrangements that prevent biosimilar makers from entering the market at the earliest possible date.

However, this still doesn’t address the lack of biosimilar uptake for infliximab: Inflectra® has been available for use since 2016. Whereas I placed considerable blame for this on Pfizer, which underestimated payers’ reaction to its initial discount on Inflectra. Today, I place more of the responsibility on the health plans and insurers for lacking the backbone needed to ensure a vibrant biosimilar market for infliximab. The health system can gain the greatest savings by converting to biosimilar infliximab compared with any currently launched biosimilar. With that in mind, let’s consider these agents.

According to the white paper, “Full buy-in is needed from payers to sustain a competitive market that values the most cost-effective medicines. This includes proactive incentivizing of biosimilar prescriptions, educating stakeholders on the promise of biosimilars, and requiring commercial insurers to provide access to biosimilars.”

I will take this one step further. Patients need to act on their desire for less-expensive alternatives at the physician’s office. Two things must occur to produce this result: (1) the provision of more accurate, less misleading information to patients relating the quality of biosimilars and their clinical efficacy and safety, and (2) financial incentives for patients to specifically request biosimilars.

There is no question that patients are often confused by the contradictory information they receive on biosimilars. This harkens back to generic–branded drug battles of decades ago. Without accurate education, patients will not reliably consider a biosimilar alternative to products like Remicade® . Much has been published on this issue already, and several biologic makers have been castigated about their contributions to misinformation. This must intensify if the second “pull-through” for biosimilar uptake is to be successful.

Any American patient who has faced high cost sharing or deductibles has considered ways to lower his or her costs. That includes making the decision to not refill their prescription or take their medications as directed. Infliximab is only available today as an office-based infusion, but should a subcutaneous version be approved, this, too, would be more directly in the patient’s hands.

The only way this will occur is if patients are given an appropriate choice by their health plans and insurers: lower cost sharing for biosimilars. This is accomplished easily, through the creation of a specialty biosimilar tier (or assignment of biosimilar agents on a fixed cost, tier 3–type payment). With the reference product strictly on tier 4 or 5 (co-insurance tiers with high dollar maximums), this would be the practical step to move the needle. For Medicare Part D beneficiaries, this could be as high as 33% co-insurance.

With the exception of very few payers, this has not occurred for Inflectra. It did occur for Zarxio®, as early as 2017, but it is not used for a chronic medication. When patients begin asking for lower-cost alternatives and payers provide cost-sharing structures that favor biosimilar use, Inflectra or Renflexis® uptake will begin to increase. That means payers foregoing short-term rebate revenue for longer-term cost savings. But one cannot occur without the other.

A Profile on Lesser-Known Player in the Biosimilar Space: Nichi-Iko Pharmaceutical Company

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 Japanese company, Nichi-Iko Pharmaceutical Company, Ltd.

First established in 1965, Nichi-Iko Pharmaceutical Company has been operating under its current name since 2005. It is based in Tokyo and Toyama, Japan. Historically, Nichi-Iko has produced generic pharmaceutical products for the Japanese and Asian markets. It has grown over the years through mergers and acquisitions, including the purchase of Schaumberg, Illinois–headquartered Sagent Pharmaceuticals in 2016. Sagent produces a host of generic drugs for the US market. Nichi-Iko also has a strategic alliance agreement in place with Eisai Co, Ltd.

Why you may be hearing more about this company: Nichi-Iko’s mission statement is “…to provide value-added, high-quality generic products…” but it has also ventured into the biosimilar marketplace. The company received an approval in Japan for its infliximab biosimilar (NI-071). A phase 3 trial of this product is currently being completed (completion date slated for February 2019) in US patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and the company hopes to file a 351(k) application for approval with the Food and Drug Administration later this year. Additionally, Nichi-Iko has filed for Japanese approval for its etanercept biosimilar, and is involved in a phase 1 trial for a trastuzumab biosimilar targeted for the US and EU marketplace. As the agreement with Eisai seems to apply to marketing generics only, Nichi-Iko’s subsidiary Sagent Pharmaceuticals seems to be a logical choice for biosimilar commercialization in the US.

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.

Biosimilar Step Therapy for Medicare Part B: Does This Make Sense?

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has decided drugs covered under Medicare part B may be subject to step therapy, if so desired by Medicare Advantage plans. UnitedHealthcare has become the first to publicly implement step therapy policies for these drugs. However, biosimilar step therapy is not the typical utilization management tool that industry executives are used to seeing.

biosimilar step therapyTraditional step therapy or step edits for prior authorization policies are typically used to require the use of an effective, low-cost drug class before trying a more-expensive treatment. For example, a plan might have a step in place before a patient can receive Humira®, such as requiring documented failure on other disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, like azathioprine or methotrexate. This makes very good sense when supported by practice guidelines or treatment pathways, based on solid supportive evidence.

For biosimilar manufacturers, the perspective on the revised CMS policy, seems to imply trying the biosimilar before receiving the branded originator product. This biosimilar step therapy would make very little sense. A doctor would not be practicing evidence-based medicine if he or she prescribed Remicade® to a patient after failure of Renflexis®. There is no evidence to show that the biosimilar will work in a patient who did not receive adequate clinical benefit from the reference product (and vice versa). Similarly, there is no information to show that a patient who has an adverse effect while taking Remicade will not have that adverse effect after injecting with Renflexis (or vice versa). In other words, after failing one, a new mechanism of action should be tried, not a product with a very similar structure. This may be a different argument, if a subcutaneous form of infliximab was introduced, and this might be reason to step the infusible form through this drug.

In United’s announcement, they are clearly seeking to increase biosimilar utilization, as designated preferred part B agents, at the expense of Remicade use, the nonpreferred agent. Therefore, it may make more sense that new patients will have to use a biosimilar before being prescribed the reference product. Step therapy in this case is almost an aside.

Ironically, the Department of Health and Human Services has also expressed its desire to move part B agents like self-administered injectables to part D. This may not apply to infliximab, as it is given as an in-office infusion. Should this be the case, plans will have many pharmacy tools at their disposal beyond biosimilar step therapy.

In other biosimilar news…Fresenius Kabi has signed an agreement with Abbvie to delay its adalimumab biosimilar market entry in the US until 2023. The manufacturer is currently trying to secure European approval for the product. A 351(k) application has not yet been filed by Fresenius in the US.

Pfizer’s Anticompetitive Suit: A Slippery Slope to Competitive Bidding?

When Pfizer first announced its lawsuit against Janssen’s parent Johnson & Johnson in September 2017, it pointed to exclusionary contracting, “anticompetitive” behavior of Remicade®’s maker as the reason for its very limited market access.

The lawsuit claimed that Janssen has withheld or threatened to withhold rebates if payers do not keep Remicade in an exclusive preferred position. The degree to which health plans knuckled under to these demands may only be inferred from the 3% marketshare Pfizer’s Inflectra® now holds. For these drugs, which are still typically covered under the medical benefit, “nonpreferred positioning” usually means no coverage. For drugs covered under the pharmacy benefit, this is not the case.

In August, the Eastern Court of Pennsylvania ruled against J&J in its request that the lawsuit be dismissed. While discovery in the case may be ongoing, we could not find mention of a resolution date for the suit.exclusionary contracting

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the Eastern Court of Pennsylvania rules in favor of Janssen. In other words, exclusionary contracting was not an anticompetitive behavior. That means the status quo is intact, but some factors may affect this situation going forward. These include the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ desire to move part B drugs (the medical benefit) to part D (the pharmacy benefit) for Medicare beneficiaries.

The scrutiny on rebate contracting coming from several sectors, and lack of transparency, may also independently influence future use of these pharmaceutical company tactics. I helped conduct a market research project recently on a nonspecialty drug. As part of these interviews, we were asked by the client to inquire about the range of rebates they were receiving from competitor manufacturers. Their responses were requested as a range (e.g., 20% to 30%), not specific contract details, and we had no intention of providing reports of individual payer deals, only anonymous, aggregate information. We expected little to no response to that query, and that is exclusionary contractingexactly what we received.

Let’s discuss the other potential outcome, in which the Court rules in favor of Pfizer. That implies that this exclusionary contracting practice is indeed anticompetitive. If this is the case, we may be on a very slippery slope. What is the difference between payers and pharma companies engaging in a “1 of 1” contract when there are multiple potential products and a “1 of 2” contract? In both cases, drug makers are committing payers to anticompetitive behavior (as perhaps defined by the Court’s new precedent).

The preferred drug tier (whether preferred generics, preferred brands or whatever) is supposed to be for products with proven clinical, patient care, or economic advantages. Truthfully, payers rarely place medications in the preferred tier for reasons other than net costs or rebate contracting, which is based on marketshare.

Now add in the potential effects of the Administration’s desired shift to part D, where pharmacy benefit rules can be applied. That exposes injectable products that were shielded under Medicare part B to commonly applied formulary placement practices.

To be complete, Janssen’s strategy was not solely based on Remicade. It may be found to have bundled Remicade with other agents in deals to exclude Pfizer’s products. The Court may also react specifically to Janssen’s contract stipulation that threatens to withhold rebates connected to future use of the product, to increase its leverage.

However, if the Court determines that 1 of 1 or exclusionary contracting with rebates are the root of the anticompetitive behavior, why should 1 of 2 or even 1 of 3 contracts in a drug category with 5 similar agents be less so? This is the slippery slope that could undo rebate contracting, and push us towards a system that more resembles a competitive bidding process like in Europe. Alternatively, it could accelerate the move towards outcomes- and value-based contracting. The result could be a system-wide revamping of the drug formulary and the pharmacy–drug maker relationship.

In other biosimilar news…Sandoz has signed a licensing agreement with Abbvie, allowing it to market its biosimilar version of Humira in 2023. The agreement, as with Abbvie’s settlements with other biosimilar makers, halts all patent litigation with Sandoz in exchange for a licensing royalty paid to Abbvie.