The Potential Effect of Amgen’s Launch on Biosimilar Licensing Deals

Imagine this interesting and perhaps very real-life scenario. It could have several implications for the present biosimilar marketing picture.

Biosimilar licensing deals

A reference manufacturer, we’ll call them Arby, signs multiple licensing deals with biosimilar manufacturers, to launch their products sequentially in 2025. The licensing deals all conclude outstanding patent litigation between the parties. But one biosimilar manufacturer doesn’t sign. We’ll call them Brooklyn Industries (BI for short).

Despite Arby’s contention that its patents on the reference product Yultira are valid until the year 2045, BI decides to launch at risk in July 2020. According to the phased launch schedule, another manufacturer, Thousand Oaks, was supposed to have the first biosimilar available on the market, with a three-month jump on the other seven competitors. Does that really give BI a five-year start over all of its competitors? And what if BI had an interchangeable biosimilar designation? Would that enable them to lock up the marketshare?

Biosimilar Licensing Deals: The Acceleration Effect

This scenario is actually playing out today with Amgen’s launch announcement of its trastuzumab and bevacizumab biosimilars (Kanjinti® and Mvasi®, respectively). Other manufacturers, including Pfizer, Samsung Bioepis, Mylan/Biocon, Teva/Celltrion have licensing agreements in place with Genentech (a subsidiary of Roche) for launch of their Herceptin® biosimilars. Only Amgen’s Mvasi and Pfizer’s Zirabev® are approved (so far) to compete for the bevacizumab business. The details of the licensing deals signed by Roche have not been released publicly, so we do not know when the first “authorized” biosimilars were supposed to launch. Conjecture abounded that it would be in 2019, nevertheless.

How does Amgen’s Kanjinti launch affect the licensing agreements that were signed with Roche? Does it mean that Amgen gets a substantial head start on the competition? Do the licensing contracts consider this possibility?

According to Kevin M. Nelson, JD, at the Chicago-based law firm Schiff Hardin, this scenario is considered in a typical pharmaceutical licensing arrangement. “Typically, settlement agreements in the pharma space include what are called acceleration clauses. Such clauses will allow an agreed-upon launch date to be accelerated to an earlier date in the event the patent or patents are invalidated or found not infringed in another litigation, or if a competing product or authorized competing product comes on the market before that agreed-upon date.”

Biosimilar licensing deals
Kevin M. Nelson, JD

He added that these acceleration provisions “can come in a variety of flavors from a change in royalty rate or structure, a requirement to leave the market if the ‘unauthorized entrant’ leaves the market, or perhaps agreed damages.” 

Accelerating Clauses Are One Thing. Accelerating Launch Is Another Matter

The fact that Amgen has announced its immediate launch may present more pragmatic problems for the other manufacturers, Mr. Nelson pointed out. Let’s say that you were a member of the Mylan/Biocon team. Your product was approved more than 18 months ago (the first one approved). Let’s also say that your licensing agreement with Genentech allowed you to launch after November 1 (a purely speculative, arbitrary date). Finally, assume that your licensing agreement was generous: it allowed you to launch as soon as possible after another competitor jumped the starter’s gun. Is it feasible to launch immediately, perhaps four months early?

“The biosimilar companies cannot just fire up the machines and have product ready tomorrow,” stated Mr. Nelson. There are all of the logistical issues surrounding a launch that must be considered: “Manufacturing, packaging, sales, and distribution all take time,” he said. “And you don’t want inventory to go bad—especially not this type as it is expensive. They may have some reserve lots or made small batches just in case, so we could see a trickle into the market.”

Remember, also, that payer and health system contracts are not arrived at overnight. Even if the Mylan/Biocon team did have lots available for shipment, they might not have places in the US to ship, other than to a group purchasing organization or distributor’s warehouse.

Typically, payers will not cover pharmaceutical agents outside of medical exceptions before the Pharmacy & Therapeutics Committee review, and this can happen anytime between 60 days and 9 months of the launch. And this is not a product that will revolutionize therapy or immediately fill an unmet clinical need. Only large discounts can move the needle here, and establish a contract quickly. Therefore, the anticipated short window of opportunity that Amgen may have in launching Kanjinti may get a little shorter but perhaps by not much.

When I mentioned the Arby, er Abbvie, scenario, Mr. Nelson agreed that it would be an entirely different ballgame. Had Boehringer Ingelheim decided to enter the market (as an interchangeable or not), their launch “would have caused absolute chaos.” Imagine trying to pull forward launch date plans of seven manufacturers by three years!

Amgen/Allergan Partners Announce Launches of Herceptin and Avastin Biosimilars

The partnership of Amgen and Allergan made a huge splash in the biosimilar market by announcing the simultaneous US launches of the first two biosimilars of anticancer monoclonal antibodies. The agents Kanjinta® (trastuzumab-anns) and Mvasi® (bevacizumab-awwb) were officially made available July 18.

The move occurred almost simultaneously with a court denial of Genentech’s request for a restraining order against Amgen. For Amgen, this marks the first two biosimilars to reach commercialization.

The launch discounts associated with these two agents is only 15% off of average wholesale price (AWP), but the manufacturers point out that is still significantly below the average selling price (ASP) of the two reference drugs—13% lower than that for Herceptin® and 12% lower than that for Avastin®. This pricing does not include potential rebates or discounts that could further reduce the net costs of these biosimilars.

The launch timing raises the question of when the FDA-approved biosimilar competition will be launched. Other biosimilars in the trastuzumab space have signed licensing agreements with Genentech, the maker of Herceptin. Their launch dates have not been disclosed. Several biosimilar makers have also signed licensing agreements with Genentech on their versions of Avastin, and their launch dates may be upcoming as well.

Assuming the licensing agreements compel the other manufacturers to pay some percentage of sales or profits to Genentech, this could give Amgen/Allergan an automatic edge in profitability. It is unknown whether the launch timing of Mvasi and Kanjinti, have any implications for the existing licensing agreements. For example, it may be possible that an early launch by an unlicensed competitor could negate specific clauses of these contracts.

The bevacizumab biosimilar class progress had stagnated through court proceedings and licensing agreements. In a post from January 2019, we had noted that Amgen had notified the court that it was prepared to launch as early as April 2018.

On the trastuzumab side, Amgen/Allergan’s product was the most recently approved biosimilar (in June 2019).

In their joint press release, they quoted Paula Schneider, CEO of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. “The introduction of biosimilars is an important step in increasing options for treating HER2-positive breast cancers, which account for about 25% of all breast cancers,” she said. “As patient advocates, we are working to ensure that patients are educated about biosimilars and understand that these FDA-approved treatments are just as effective as the original biologic drugs.”

Samsung Bioepis Signals a Settlement With Genentech on Herceptin Biosimilar

And then there was one. Samsung Bioepis and Genentech filed a motion in District Court to drop all pending patent litigation regarding Ontruzant®, an approved Herceptin® biosimilar. A Joint Stipulation of Dismissal is usually the confirmation that a licensing agreement has been reached.

This leaves one remaining approved trastuzumab biosimilar maker that has not settled with Genentech (a subsidiary of Roche). Amgen’s product Kanjinti®, which was the last trastuzumab biosimilar approved (in June), is the last of 5 approved agents that is not yet subject to a Genentech agreement. The other manufacturers, Mylan/Biocon, Teva/Celltrion, Pfizer, and now Samsung Bioepis, will likely pay a royalty to Genentech whenever their products are launched.

Launch dates have not been announced (nor have the terms of these agreements) for any Herceptin biosimilar. However, the principal patent for Herceptin® has expired, so biosimilar competition should be available before the end of the year.

In other biosimilar news…Coherus Biosciences announced that it has manufactured its 400,000th dose of its pegfilgrastim biosimilar Udenyca®. Additionally, its unaudited second quarter earnings seem to indicate positive movement, as much as $84 million (more than doubling first-quarter earnings of $37 million).