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.