Federal Policy and Biosimilars: A Conversation With Molly Burich, MS, Boehringer Ingelheim: Part 2

In part two and the conclusion of this interview, Molly Burich, MS, Director, Public Policy: Biosimilars and Pipeline, speaks to Boehringer Ingelheim’s progress in Cytelzo interchangeability studies, its plans for the product in Europe in the face of several adalimumab biosimilars launches in the EU, and also the complexity inherent in CMS’s plans to move biologic agents from part B to part D coverage.

Molly Burich, Boehringer Ingelheim
Molly Burich, MS

BR&R: Boehringer Ingelheim indicated that it started the study on Cytelzo interchangeability last year. What’s the progress on this effort?

Burich: The trial is continuing to progress. It’s a high bar and a big commitment. We will certainly publicize relevant information in due course.

We feel that for Cyltezo, in particular, interchangeability is an important component. It may drive switching. The study will also show a complement of clinical data around that topic. We hope to have information to share in the future. [Editor’s Note: The VOLTAIRE-X study, which will evaluate the effect of switching between Cyltezo and Humira in patients with plaque psoriasis, has an estimated primary study completion date of March 2020 and full study completion of July 2020, according to ClinicalTrials.gov]

BR&R: Speaking about Cyltezo, I have a question about the marketing floodgates being opened in the EU for adalimumab biosimilars. At least 4 are being launched in the EU after the October 16th patent expiration. Does Boehringer Ingelheim plan to join the fray?

Burich: Boehringer Ingelheim had planned to bring Cyltezo to patients in the EU. Due to the patent litigation with AbbVie in the US, we will not commercialize Cyltezo in the EU. Boehringer Ingelheim will continue all activities for our biosimilar in the United States. We are committed to making Cyltezo® available to U.S. patients as soon as possible and certainly before 2023.

PART B TO PART D TRANSITION BY CMS 

BR&R: Medicare has indicated that it will move many Medicare part B drugs into part D. To what extent will this affect biosimilar access and utilization?

Burich: It is a very hot topic these days. We have some pretty significant concerns on conceptually around what it means for moving from part B to part D. The key reason revolves around the access question, including patient cost sharing.

A move from part B to plan D could mean that patient cost sharing may jump significantly. We know that part B beneficiaries have wraparound or Medigap coverage to protect them from cost sharing issues. In part D, there is not such protection. Aside from the biosimilar question, the move from part B to part D really has to be explored and discussed a lot more to understand how we can ensure that patient access is not reduced through high cost sharing. That needs to be ironed out as it applies to any part B drug before we can speculate whether this is an opportunity for a biosimilar. Time will tell what that really looks like.

Last month, CMS released the Medicare Advantage guidance allowing for step therapy for part B drugs. That could be a potential opportunity for biosimilars, if we know how some of the access concerns will be addressed. We just don’t have the full picture at this point.

BR&R: Is it possible that this move to part D might spur some payers to create biosimilar tiers? These would require lower cost sharing for patients compared with reference biologics, assuming contracts with the reference manufacturer permits it.

Burich: In my opinion, we’ll need access to more biosimilars before we see a lot of that activity. It’s hard to foresee what big benefit design changes will be coming, but it’s certainly possible. We’ll need a mature market in the US before that will happen.

BR&R: The devil is in the details with this switching issue but there’s also an access issue. Plans can make midyear formulary changes, this would then apply to biosimilars and reference drugs covered under part D.

Burich: This is an important issue. The latest guidance that we saw from CMS, which is now a couple of years old, allowed positive formulary changes. Adding the biosimilar to a formulary is always allowed mid-year. The question involves removing an originator product or changing its tier.

CMS has said that those situations would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. These rules preventing negative formulary changes midyear are there to protect patient access. It will take CMS some time to iron out what the process looks like for this type of potential formulary change midyear. For now, we’ll have to rely on CMS’s case-by-case review

BR&R: In general, payers do not consistently fund and manage self-injectable specialty drugs in the same way. In some cases, they cover these agents under the pharmacy benefits, medical benefit, or even both. Further, they can be managed under either benefit as well. However, it seems we are moving toward pharmacy management of these agents. How does this affect biosimilar access, if at all?

Burich: There will be more benefit design changes once we have a more robust biosimilar market. More specifically, when we have pharmacy benefit biosimilars.

We’ve mentioned CMS’s intention to move more of these products from part B to part D. It is possible that commercial plans will have different benefit designs and treat injectables differently than Medicare does. We want to make sure that biosimilar or not, the access piece is really at the center of those changes; it will not be beneficial to the biosimilar market if this move causes significant patient access issues (e.g., actual access to this drug or big swings in cost sharing). All of those things will be equally problematic for a biosimilar as they are for an originator, so we want to make sure we have our eye on the access component.

BR&R: Health and Human Services Secretary Azar and FDA Commissioner Gottlieb have loudly stated their desire to improve biosimilar patient and market access. The Biosimilar Action Plan was released earlier in the summer to that end. What is the one aspect of the Biosimilar Action Plan that appeals most to manufacturers like Boehringer Ingelheim?

Burich: The aspect of education, tackling both proactive education and countering misinformation is very critical from our perspective. We’d like to see more materials moving forward that focus on switching and on interchangeability. We haven’t really scratched the surface on those topics from an education standpoint.

The reality is that the FDA has an important voice and bringing validity to educational materials is so critical for patients, physicians, and health plans as well. We hope that the FDA will stand by its public commitment to release more reading materials, more videos, more web info, etc. It is especially important at this juncture; we are seeing misinformation and a lack of clarity on certain things.

IS THE BIOSIMILAR ACTION PLAN ACTIONABLE?

BR&R: One of the biggest barriers to biosimilar access is the patent thickets. The rebate trap problem is another story. What power does HHS have to clear out the patent thickets? Or is this an area that can only be addressed by Congress?

Burich: This is the most difficult part of the Action Plan, because it is unclear who can truly implement change and what change might be realistic. We have to protect true innovation that’s important to all stakeholders.

At the same time, there’s no question that patent litigation is the leading barrier to biosimilar accesss. Some makers of branded pharmaceuticals have constructed patent thickets so that they could sustain prolonged, expensive litigation against competitors, while stifling competition. Humira is the prime example: More than 15 years after the molecule was approved , no biosimilar is being marketed – in the U.S. What the answer is and which government agency can effect change has yet to be determined.

BR&R: That change won’t come quickly, in any case. Whether enacted by Congress or the Office of the Inspector General, which may have to reinterpret the safe harbor statutes, this may only first apply to the second-generation of biosimilar agents, beyond 2021 perhaps. It seems likely that this will be a very deliberate process.

Burich: I do believe Commissioner Gottlieb is thinking about both how to get more products launched in the short term and also the long-term vision of a sustainable biosimilar market. That is such an important part of the problem.

We were very happy that the FDA had their public hearing. The FDA panel asked a lot of thoughtful and probing questions to the individual speakers. We are fully supportive of the Action Plan and its individual components. If we saw all of those things come together and start to see action, including finalizing the interchangeability guidance and providing more education, the biosimilar market would be in a far better place.

BR&R: We say that biosimilar manufacturers can make their products attractive to payers, but payers need to play a positive role here. Commissioner Gottlieb has said that payers have to help in this process by taking the long-term view, by not automatically sticking with the reference product because of the rebate revenue. They have to be open to using the biosimilars and nurturing the health of the industry. Is there anything else the biosimilar manufacturer can do to convince payers to make this market viable?

Burich: Certainly, biosimilar manufacturers have to approach these payer negotiations and conversations with competitive and innovative contracting approaches. That does not just include pricing but also how do you drive volume and true savings to both payers and patients. That kind of innovative approach is necessary, because we know it’s a challenging market.

Biosimilar manufacturers have to look at the whole picture as well. That means providing targeted patient/physician services to really help ensure that the switching experience is seamless for the patient and the physician so that biosimilar utilization is not viewed as something very disruptive.

Word From the Adalimumab Front: A Conversation With Molly Burich, MS, Boehringer Ingelheim: Part 1

In the first portion of a two-part interview with Molly Burich, MS, Director, Public Policy: Biosimilars and Pipeline, Boehringer Ingelheim, we cover the challenges of driving biosimilar uptake, as well as the unique situation that has focused this manufacturer’s attention on biosimilars and interchangeability. 

BR&R: The viability of the US biosimilar industry is being challenged if companies cannot rely on revenue from switching, especially for the autoimmune category.

Molly Burich, Boehringer Ingelheim
Molly Burich, MS

Molly Burich: Yes, biosimilar uptake is certainly going to be dependent on switching. But switching comes in a few different types. One case involves patients who are going to be switched to a therapy with a different mechanism of action. Perhaps their existing therapy no longer works (or didn’t work in the first place).

Another case is medication substitution by the physician. The doctor drives that decision to switch the patient either to a biosimilar or to an interchangeable.

Lastly is automatic substitution, which will come as a result of interchangeability and enabled by state laws. However, that is only in play once a product gains the interchangeability designation.

All of those are important components, but certainly switching overall is an important part of the market viability.

BR&R: When we’re talking about automatic switching, multiple stakeholders are involved, including the prescribers, pharmacies, payers, patients. And none of it matters if we don’t have an interchangeable product or even final guidelines from the FDA on interchangeability. In retrospect, should we have made automatic switching for biosimilars based on something other than interchangeability?

Burich: There are a lot of stakeholders involved and this is. why multiple ways of switching will likely occur. In terms of switching, interchangeability allows pharmacists to switch one reference product prescription for an interchangeable one without intervention of the physician at the front end—pending state laws of course. The physician must be notified of the change.

In our opinion though, automatic switching is certainly not the only way to drive uptake of biosimilars. We believe physician-driven switching and payer-drive substitution via formulary decision-making are very important to drive the uptake of biosimilars.

BOEHRINGER INGELHEIM’S SINGULAR PRODUCT FOCUS

BR&R: Biosimilar utilization, and the overall market, has been growing slowly since the first biosimilar approval. Prospective biosimilar manufacturers have tended to jump into the market with both feet, filling their pipelines with multiple biosimilar agents. Boehringer Ingelheim may be the only major manufacturer with a single biosimilar listed on its pipeline web page. Is the company in a wait-and-see mode, to see if the industry will survive? Or is Boehringer making further investments in biosimilar development behind the scenes?

Burich: We are constantly in an evaluation process of our portfolio. Obviously, we are focused on our approved biosimilar Cyltezo® (adalimumab-adbm) and also on interchangeability, here in the U.S. That is our focus area. We believe that the introduction of biosimilars will improve the lives of patients, as well as contribute to the quality and economic sustainability of healthcare systems.

INTERCHANGEABILITY: MISUNDERSTOOD BUT NO SILVER BULLET

BR&R: The issues around interchangeability are particularly frustrating. At the time the BPCIA was written, was the concept of interchangeability (which does not exist in EMA regulations) an attempt to give prescribers and consumers a warm and fuzzy feeling of an AB-rated generic?

Burich: It’s an important question. As you said, when the BPCIA was written, interchangeability was viewed as a sort of silver bullet. The reality is that interchangeability is an important concept, but perhaps it makes more sense for only certain products. As we gain experience in the biosimilar market, we’re starting to see this.

We believe in the concept of interchangeability and in what the FDA has put forth about interchangeability. We do think there are questions about how an interchangeable product may be perceived compared with one that is not interchangeable. In our comments to the FDA, we encouraged the FDA to come out with educational materials that are geared toward talking about interchangeability, and talking about switching. These are all important questions and need to be addressed for the broad stakeholder community. The FDA is obviously best positioned to bring that type of education in the next round of materials they develop.

BR&R: We’ve heard a great deal about people mischaracterizing interchangeable products as being superior to biosimilars (for the same reference product). Why is this differentiation so important?

Burich: This issue speaks to education. All people engaging in the biosimilar space must realize that the designation of interchangeability does not mean it’s a higher-quality, safer, or more-efficacious product. It means that the manufacturer has conducted additional studies required by the FDA to enable that automatic substitution at the pharmacy level.

The FDA has issued clarifying pieces of information and education on their website about this, but there is room for more. The reality is that when a drug is approved as a biosimilar, it has attained the foundational designation proving that the drug is highly similar to the reference biologic, without any clinically meaningful differences. On the other hand, gaining the interchangeability designation is about conducting trials of multiple switches within the patient and expecting the same results in any given to patient. Those are two different distinctions. It proves something different, allowing for automatic substitution to occur.

In part two and the conclusion of this interview, which will be published in a separate post, Molly Burich speaks to Boehringer Ingelheim’s progress in Cytelzo’s interchangeability studies, its plans for the product in Europe in the face of several adalimumab biosimilars launches in the EU, and also the complexity inherent in CMS’s plans to move biologic agents from part B to part D coverage.