Who Are the Key Lucentis Biosimilar Players to Watch?

Roche’s reference product Lucentis® (ranibizumab) seems to be the next likely target for biosimilar competition. Sales of the drug in the US were last reported to be $1.5 billion in 2017, but Roche’s revenues from Lucentis are expected to slip, owing to competition from Eylea® (aflibercept) primarily and some newer agents. And new Lucentis biosimilars will hasten that decline.

ranibizumab biosimilars

Ranibizumab is approved for use for several ophthalmologic indications, including wet age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and diabetic macular edema, myopic choroidal neovascularization, and macular edema following retinal vein occlusion.

According to reporting by the UK-based Generics and Biosimilar Initiative (GaBI), the patents on Lucentis will expire in the US in June 2020 and in Europe in 2022. GaBI had found some 10 organizations or partnerships working on investigational ranibizumab biosimilars, but little updated information (some were reported as early as 2015).

Today, our research into the Lucentis biosimilar space revealed just a couple of active players, but with rapidly advancing plans. Here are the three initiatives reported publicly:

1. Coherus-Bioeq

This one is a little complex—stick with it, as it could be the first to obtain FDA approval, as early as later this year.

Formycon AG, a German manufacturer, gave Bioeq IP AG exclusive global commercialization rights to FYB201, Formycon’s ranibizumab biosimilar. In November 2019, with Formycon’s assent, Bioeq signed an agreement with Coherus Biosciences to commercialize the biosimilar in the US.

At the recent JP Morgan investor conference, Coherus President Denny Lanfear disclosed that Bioeq filed for FDA approval in December 2019. Coherus is expecting FDA acceptance of the application shortly, and a fourth quarter 2020 decision. This could set up a product launch, according to Coherus, in 2021.

Interestingly, Coherus originally had a different biosimilar ranibizumab in its own pipeline. This agent, CHS-3351, fell by the wayside a couple of years ago. The deal with Bioeq seems to have created a new ranibizumab opportunity for Coherus.

2. Xbrane-Stada Arzneimittel

Sweden-based Xbrane signed an agreement with the German generics manufacturer Stada Arzneimittel to co-develop Xbrane’s Lucentis biosimilar. This agent, currently dubbed Xlucane™, is being tested in a phase 3 trial involving 580 patients with age-related macular degeneration, which is slated for completion in February 2021 (interim results available in May 2020).

3. Biogen-Samsung Bioepis

Samsung Bioepis completed its phase 3 trial of SB11 in December 2019 (primary completion date of May 2019). This trial comprised 705 patients with neovascular age-related macular degeneration. SB11 seems poised to be submitted for approval via the 351(k) biosimilar pathway, and Samsung’s deal with Biogen (already a part owner of the joint venture with Samsung Biologics) for commercialization. Therefore, Biogen will take the marketing reins once an FDA decision has been given. If Samsung submits its filing in Q2 2020, a launch could be possible in Q2 2021, assuming a positive decision.

Are There Any Other Active Players Out There?

The development of PF582 by Pfenex has been on hold since 2018, after the company was handed back the full rights to the agent by former partner Hospira. Pfenex no longer lists this product (or any other biosimilar for that matter) on its pipeline. The drug had progressed through phase 1/2 studies, but has not advanced.

None of the other significant players in the biosimilar industry (including Pfizer, Sandoz, Mylan, Amgen, Celltrion, or Biocon) have publicly announced a ranibizumab biosimilar program at present.

Is Physician Resistance to Biosimilars Dissipating?

We tend to think of challenges to uptake of approved and marketed biosimilars coming from three areas: (1) the reference product manufacturers, (2) the physicians, and (3) the patients. The patent mazes and rebating strategies characterize the first, and patient advocates’ questions about nonmedical switching describe the last. Physician resistance, however, seems to be on the wane.

I was pleasantly surprised by conversations with health system chief medical officers and medical group administrators speaking about biosimilar implementation and adoption at the annual meeting of the American Medical Group Association last week in Phoenix. If this is any indication, the iPhysician resistance to biosimilars decreasingnitial trepidation of US physicians in using biosimilars in treatment-naïve patients is melting away. Medical society endorsement of the effectiveness of biosimilars and promises of significant cost savings seem to be convincing arguments on physician side. Of course, switching of a reference medication for a biosimilar in a patient established on treatment with the reference product remains another story.

Some of the physicians came to learn about biosimilars rather than share their experiences. They may or may not have been aware of the extensive European experience with specific biosimilar agents and drug classes, but they were willing to accept that (1) if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved the biosimilar, they expect it to be safe and effective and (2) that extrapolation would not be an issue if FDA approved the label. The use of biosimilars for nonapproved indications would be left up to individual physicians (and payers’ prior authorization systems).

It was clear that the potential of biosimilars to save their patients money was of paramount importance. This may signal a changing view that issues regarding safety and efficacy of approved biosimilars will be preempted by the need to address economic needs in initial prescribing for new patients.

There is also an indication that large medical groups and some health systems are willing to leave the decision making to the Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee. If the P&T Committee places the biosimilar on the formulary, and it is a savings for their new patients, the biosimilar will be used. That also means that biosimilar adoption at this level will be seriously aided by the use of lower cost-sharing tiers for biosimilars. In other words, a separate biosimilar tier that requires less copayment or coinsurance than the reference product could be a real boost to patient use.

In other biosimilar news…Michigan’s governor has signed legislation making it the 37th state to expand its pharmacy laws to allow interchangeable biosimilar substitution. Now if there were only an interchangeable biosimilar to substitute!

Coherus Biosciences announced that it believes that it will obtain FDA approval and commercial launch for its delayed pegfilgrastim biosimilar in the second half of 2018, along with European approval during the same timeframe.

Pfenex disclosed that it is seeking partners for its own pegfilgrastim biosimilar, in addition to its biosimilar candidate to Lucentis®. Its stock price has taken a steep jump in recent weeks, rising to over $6 a share (from $4) since the beginning of March.

A Profile of a Lesser-Known Player in the Biosimilar Space: Pfenex

On occasion, we profile some biosimilar manufacturers with whom our readers may not be as familiar as the big pharma players. In this post, we highlight a San Diego company, named Pfenex (pronounced FEE-nex, as in the city).

Pfenex was founded in 2009, the result of a spin-off from The Dow Chemical Company, whose business was based on its proprietary protein production platform. Called Pfenex Expression TechnologyTM, “it combines an extensive toolbox of expression components with a robotically-enabled high-throughput parallel strain screening technology, delivering unprecedented speed and success in identifying protein production strains capable of producing large amounts of soluble, actpfenex-254_(2)[1]ive product,” according to Pfenex’s website.  The company believes that use of this recombinant protein production platform could enable the avoidance of process related intellectual property that challenge other biosimilar manufacturers.

The technology itself was developed in 2001. Patrick Lucy, the Interim Chief Executive Officer, President and Secretary, and Chief Business Officer, has been with the company and its predecessor from the beginning of the platform development. Pfenex is also a founding member of the Biosimilars Council.

Why you may be hearing more about this company: A biosimilar version of ranibizumab (Lucentis®) and a therapeutic equivalent to teriparatide (Forteo®)  are lead products for Pfenex. Teriparatide, although a recombinant protein, is being developed via the 505(b)(2) pathway and the pivotal study is ongoing. Ranibizumab has completed a phase 1/2 trial and according to Mr. Lucy, Pfenex “is considering its strategic options” with regard to advancing the product. Both were produced using its Pfenex Expression Technology, and Pfenex is further leveraging its platform for the development of other products. In 2016, Pfenex completed a $181 million multiproduct partnership with Jazz Pharmaceuticals, which includes an option for Jazz to negotiate a license to Pfenex’s pegaspargase (Oncaspar®) biosimilar candidate.

Interestingly, Pfenex is also using its technology to develop a very different drug candidate, Px563L, a novel recombinant protective antigen-based vaccine to protect against anthrax. This is part of a $143.5 million advanced development contract with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).