The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) released a report this week that highlighted seven pharmaceuticals with “substantial price increases on top of already high current spending.” According to ICER, these seven agents accounted for billions in unnecessary expense in 2017 and 2018. AbbVie’s Humira® and Genentech’s Rituxan® topped the list, with Neulasta® coming in at number 5. The first two are not that surprising, because relatively high price increases (even net rebates or other considerations) are common reactions of pharma companies to imminent new competition. This has been typical for small molecule brands facing patent expiration and generic challenges. In 2017 and 2018, AbbVie may have been more concerned that it could not reach a settlement with the several biosimilar manufacturers working on adalimumab agents. Genentech also faced similar conditions with Rituxan. On the other hand, Amgen was already facing strong competition from Zarxio® and Granix®.
ICER specified, “Net price increases for the seven drugs unsupported by new evidence were responsible for increasing total US drug spending by more than $5.1 billion from 2017 to 2018. The drug whose price increases accounted for the greatest single impact on spending was Humira. Humira’s average US price increased 15.9% over this period.” I emphasize, this was net price not list price increases.
In a presentation at the Drug Information Association (DIA) annual meeting, Janet Woodcock, MD, Director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, stated that 83 biosimilar development programs were now ongoing, for a total of 38 different biologics. This implies that biosimilar interest in several new classes of biologics remains strong from established and prospective manufacturers.
Tanvex BioPharma announced in late September that its TX-01 filgrastim biosimilar candidate was not approved by the FDA. According to Tanvex, the FDA’s complete response letter did not cite any data deficiencies that might require additional studies. This leads one to suspect that production facilities problems may be the issue. The soonest Tanvex can expect a new FDA decision is 6 months from its new application submission date. As a result, Zarxio® and Nevistym® remain the only two biosimilar filgrastim agents (plus the follow-on product Granix®) to compete with Amgen’s Neupogen.
$44 Billion by 2024. $250 Billion by 2024. Whatever. I’ve not been very impressed by the many attempts to estimate how much money biosimilars could save the US health care system. Even the more well-known estimates of biosimilar savings, like those from RAND and Express Scripts, have been little more than games of “pin the tail on the donkey,” as the researchers were blinded as to when products would actually launch and the unproved potential for biosimilar uptake.
Of course, this was not the economists’ fault. They had little past information about the US biosimilars market on which to base their view of the future, and they could not have predicted the extent to which patent litigation prevented access to these medications.
I do appreciate the latest effort, however, by the Biosimilars Council (a subsidiary of the Association for Accessible Medicines) to understand biosimilar savings. Instead of predicting the future, the Council reviewed the past to assess how much each biosimilar would have saved the health care system and patients had they launched as expected.
The number they landed on was $7.6
billion since the introduction of the first biosimilar in 2015 through
2018. It applies not to the seven biosimilars (as of June 12, 2019) that were
launched but to the 12 that were approved but not available because of ongoing patent
As impressive as this lost opportunity sounds, I believe that the biosimilar savings estimate is still too low. The calculation by the Biosimilars Council does not seem to include an important aspect: The reference manufacturer takes significant price annually for each year biosimilar competition does not emerge. The analysis assumed a 30% price discount and 40% uptake, split between two biosimilar competitors. Uptake was assumed to increase to 50% if three were three separate competitors. Yet the analysis was based on actual list prices from IQVIA data.
If biosimilar competition existed, these price increases would not have occurred, likely at all. For example, the availability of Inflectra® and Reflexis® did not fuel great uptake of biosimilars at the expense of Remicade®; however, the infliximab market was changed suddenly, by forcing Janssen Biotech to not only halt their price increases in 2016 but significantly lower their net pricing. As a result, average sales prices have been dropping ever since the introduction of the biosimilars (from a high of $85.81 per 10 mg in January 2018 to $69.96 in July 2019 [–19%]).
Consider the same scenario for the adalimumab biosimilars, which I wrote about previously. Without competition, AbbVie can raise its retail prices right through 2022, resulting in upwards of 50% higher list prices. Although this does not account for contracting, each new payer contract it should be remembered, is based on the current price (not the previously rebated costs). In other words, the higher prices work their way into subsequent payer contracts. How much additional biosimilar savings, on top of the calculated $7.6 billion, would that be? I’m not an economist, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to estimate, based on no future price increases (only future price reductions). Over an 18-month period, Amgen raised the price of Enbrel® four times, resulting in a 37% jump by 2016. Had biosimilar etanercept been available at the time, that would not have happened, yielding an instant 37% savings. That does not prevent the reference manufacturer from hiking the drug price in the months before biosimilar competition occurs. This practice is expected to continue. However, the earliest possible availability of biosimilars will yield compounded price savings.
Coherus Biosciences surprised many on its third-quarter earnings call late yesterday. It will rely not on a lower price than its biosimilar competitor to gain marketshare after Coherus’ Udenyca launch, but on its ability to pull through on its patient and provider services and supply chain to gain significant marketshare for its biosimilar version of Neulasta®.
This is not to imply that Coherus will not offer contracts to group purchasing organizations (GPOs), hospitals, and payers. The company intends to do so. However, the wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) for Udenyca® will match that of Mylan’s Fulphila®—$4,175 per vial, or a 33% discount from Amgen’s reference product. Denny Lanfear, CEO of Coherus added that the company’s contracting plans “will deliver additional value to payers.”
AWAITING HCPCS CODING
Unlike other biosimilar manufacturers, this is their first product to reach the market. Not only was manufacturing and production a priority, but company infrastructure had to be ready for launch. Although Coherus pointed out that the sales force for Coherus is fully in place, they are holding back the Udenyca launch until the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) designates a Q code for claims and billing purposes. Therefore, the goal is a Udenyca launch date of January 3, 2019.
Jim Hassard, Vice President for Marketing and Market Access, emphasized that “Our overall launch strategy goes beyond pricing, to reliable supply and services. We’re committed to world-class execution and salesforce effectiveness.” The company’s Coherus Complete, patient and provider service site, is operational, and this will include copay support for eligible patients. Mr. Hassard stated, “This price is attractive to payers without diminishing our value proposition. We can deliver significant savings to the health system versus Neulasta.”
CAN UDENYCA GRAB SOME ONPRO MARKETSHARE?
One interesting statement made during the call was the expectation that Coherus will go after some of Neulasta Onpro’s share of the market. Amgen’s on-body injector accounts for about 60% of all Neulasta utilization today, “but this growth has flattened out,” Chris Thompson, Vice President of Sales, emphasized. “We’re looking at the whole market, not just prefilled syringe market,” he said. “We think we’ll be able to sell through the Onpro market,” meaning that their pricing and services will attract some of this marketshare. In fact, Coherus executives believe that biosimilars may eventually garner nearly 70% of the pegfilgrastim market.
Coherus believes that there is pent-up demand for the biosimilar in the hospital segment today, which is why GPOs may represent promising contracting opportunities. They are seeking parity positioning at the payer and pharmacy benefit manager level.
This sounds fairly reasonable. Yet the vast majority of biosimilar consultants and payers with whom I had communicated had anticipated that Coherus would launch with at least a modest WAC discount relative to Mylan’s Fulphila. On the conference call, the investment banking participants wanting information on the Udenyca launch seemed caught off guard as well.
UDENYCA REVENUE TO SUPPORT COHERUS FOR NOW
Perhaps this strategy gives Coherus ample room for contracting while retaining a respectable net cost. Mr. Thompson said, “We’ll roll out a comprehensive contracting strategy for GPOs in the next week or two. It will be competitive and designed to win.”
It may need to be. Relying on better services and perhaps even a better supply chain (albeit one that is brand new) may not be sufficiently persuasive to hospital and payer P&T Committees. And Coherus needs to generate revenue from its sole product to feed its new sales team, new product development, and hungry investors.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced yesterday the approval of adalimumab-adaz from Sandoz. The new agent, dubbed Hyrimoz™, will not be launched in the US until 2023. The approval of Hyrimoz is the third for Sandoz (but only one, Zarxio®, is available for prescription in the US).
The FDA approval of adalimumab-adaz covered several indications, including adult Crohn’s disease, ankylosing spondylitis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, plaque psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis. The drug’s approval was based partly on the findings of a phase 3 clinical trial in patients with chronic plaque psoriasis, in which the biosimilar was found to be noninferior to the originator product Humira® in terms of efficacy (i.e., PASI 75 score) and safety.
Hyrimoz is the third approved adalimumab biosimilar, none of which have been marketed due to patent litigation. Abbvie has signed licensing agreements with Amgen and Samsung Bioepis to delay US launches.
HUMIRA PRICE DISCOUNT IN THE EU
This biosimilar is being marketed in the EU, competing with several others for the Humira marketshare overseas. However, signs of real competition are heating up in Europe, as Abbvie has offered a Humira price discount of as much as 80%.
According to an article published in Fierce Pharma, Abbvie is hoping to squash the biosimilar competition and prevent it from gaining valuable European experience ahead of US launches in 2023. The article cited a report by Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal, indicating that even at an 80% discount, Humira will still be profitable for Abbvie. “The objective is to defend the US market by denying the biosimilars in-market experience [in Europe] and then arguing the Europeans ‘chose’ Humira over the biosimilars for quality reasons beyond price,” according to Gal’s report.
On the other hand, this puts the biosimilar makers in a tight spot on the continent. They need to earn back their R&D costs and may be unwilling to face an immediate low-profit reality. Revenues within the EU for Humira are $4 billion. Even if it offered tenders of 80% for every member country (and they were accepted), revenues would still be in the range of $800 million. This would drastically reduce the size of the revenue slices for the European biosimilar competitors. It could be possible that some may drop out of the market, at least until the time of the US launches.
One of the persistent themes at the Association for Accessible Medicines’ first GRx+Biosims meeting was an existential one. Authorities such as Gillian Woollett, PhD; Hillel Cohen, PhD; and several industry experts worried that without a change in mindset and intervention by government, payers, and the industry itself, the US biosimilar industry may not survive its infancy. And failure to attain US biosimilar market success would have grave consequences for the global biosimilars industry.
In her session, Avalere Health’s Senior Vice President Gillian Woollett, discussed the three mountains that biosimilar manufacturers had to climb in order to be successful. These were, in sequence, Mount FDA Approval, Mount Exclusivity and Intellectual Property, and Mount Commercialization. Indeed, it seems that FDA approval in many ways may be the easiest hill to summit.
Twelve biosimilars have been approved by FDA, but this is a far cry from attaining biosimilar market success. The eight drugs that are approved but have not yet reached the market are testament to this problem. Most have fallen victim to the lengthy delays associated with the exclusivity and intellectual property difficulties, none more so than the adalimumab biosimilars. For US biosimilar makers, each year that Humira® (and etanercept [Enbrel®] which will likely be introduced before 2020) face no market competition represents billions of dollars in unrecoverable revenue, as well as tens of billions of lost savings to the health system. Of course, it also means billions of additional revenues to the reference drug makers and their shareholders, which is substantially why these delays occur in the first place.
Don’t Look to the US, not Yet
Dr. Woollett asked, “Can there be a sustainable multisource specialty market in the US? I don’t think this is a foregone conclusion in the US.” She explained that the US is 50% of the market by dollar volume, yet it is home to only 5% of the world’s population. With aggressive tenders in many EU member countries, manufacturers are looking toward the US market to ensure long-term profitability. “Can the US carry the return on investment for biosimilars for the rest of world? I’m not convinced,” asserted Dr. Woollett.
Dr. Woollett pointed to another potential limiting factor in the commercialization of biosimilars. No interchangeable version of a biosimilar has yet been approved by FDA. However, switching matters greatly to the anti-inflammatory biosimilar drug maker, because it determines the size of the initial market opportunity. She explained, “If it applies to entire anti-TNF market, that’s $30.4 billion for infliximab. If you consider only treatment-naïve patients, that market is much, much smaller. If it is restricted to treatment-naïve patients, then no, these biosimilars will not be viable.” Switching is not a formidable issue for cancer biosimilars, as these are used as chronic treatments; nearly all patients are new to treatment.
She also noted a decline in the number of biosimilar development programs registered with FDA, which may be a signal of problems in the perception of manufacturers regarding their market opportunity.
Limited Reference Biologics Targeted
“Interest in biosimilar development only occurs for successful originator biologics,” Dr. Woollett pointed out. When filtering out biologics that are also not nearing patent expiration, it leaves a limited set of very expensive reference medications.
In making the business decision whether to develop a biosimilar, drug makers consider a number of questions, including the ease and cost of obtaining samples for evaluation, potential need for expensive clinical studies, and finally, what expense and time may be required for commercialization (including patent litigation). If a company plans on making the biosimilar available in a number of countries, it may be required to prove its molecule is adequately similar to samples obtained from each country or region. This could mean the need to purchase over 100 lots from the manufacturer, which is often not willing to sell to potential competitors. This is the reason for legislation like CREATES Act, which attempt to make this easier for potential biosimilar manufacturers.
Lowering Costs Through Harmonization of Comparators
However, Dr. Woollett and her colleagues in the biosimilars industry threw their support behind a different approach in 2017. Theirs is an initiative to establish “global reference comparators.” Under this approach, a manufacturer would only have to prove biosimilarity with a single licensed version of the reference product. “If the reference product is the same worldwide, then oughtn’t the biosimilar be able to be, too?” she asked. “Requirements for different datasets cannot be justified,” said Dr. Woollett. “Biologics been around for a very long time.
Once approved, complexity is no longer a relevant argument.” This would eliminate the need for biosimilar makers to confirm equivalence in bridging studies between their molecule and the licensed standard approved by each jurisdiction.
This approach reflects a growing understanding that the lot-to-lot variations seen in usual manufacturing of biologics (and over time) do not generally represent a risk to patients in terms of clinical effectiveness or safety. This, Hillel Cohen, PhD, Executive Director, Scientific Affairs, Sandoz, has just not shown to be an issue over 20-odd years of biologic production (outside of the Eprex® incident in 1998). In essence, today’s biologics are biosimilars to the original product approved by the FDA or EMA decades ago, without adverse effect on efficacy or safety. He pointed out that bridging studies that have been required add time and complexity to biosimilar development. Global comparators would help resolve this, and it can be applied to both biosimilarity and interchangeability comparisons as well. Dr. Cohen noted that “the FDA’s draft interchangeability guidelines still require comparison with US-licensed reference products only.”
Interchangeability not a Guarantee of Biosimilar Market Success
Dr. Cohen said that when a biosimilar product is so extensively studied as to its comparability with the reference product, “I cannot imagine scientifically why we thought switching would be a problem. In the opinion of the EU, these agents are substitutable, under proper supervision, with clinical monitoring. Indeed, the concept of interchangeability is unique to US regulations. However, even this designation may not hold the key to biosimilar market success.
Leah Christl, PhD, FDA, agrees with EMA that biosimilars in theory are interchangeable with their reference for the purpose of MD prescribing (meaning they are substitutable). This helps address the question of whether a noninterchangeable biosimilar is somehow a lower quality or less equivalent to a reference product than an interchangeable biosimilar might be. In fact, Dr. Cohen pointed out, “There is no definition of a ‘noninterchangeable biosimilar’ in the BPCIA.”
The cost of development of biosimilars, which may be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, is very high, considering that only four have been launched in the US. Dr. Woollett thinks that something will have to change in order for biosimilar manufacturers to maintain their interest in this sector. Yet, in view of the limited options available in the US to remedy the situation, Dr. Woollett remains pessimistic. “These investments in biosimlars of up to $500 million will be reconsidered,” she concluded.
At the GRx+Biosims meeting, Secretary Azar’s assistant Daniel Best restated the administration’s desire to preserve the biosimilar industry for the benefit of lowering prices and greater competition. He said, “We absolutely have to find a market for biosimilars. We can’t allow it be be eradicated through the perverse incentives in the marketplace.”
In fact, the only biosimilar market success story to date, Zarxio®, may be as much the result of a certain set of preconditions as that of Sandoz’s marketing efforts. First, another branded product, tbo-filgrastim (Granix®), was already available and was eroding the share of Amgen’s reference product. Second, this agent, though not technically a biosimilar by the regulatory approval pathway, cleared away some of the patent issues for Sandoz in its development of Zarxio. Third, Amgen eventually yielded the top position to Sandoz (at around 40% of marketshare). This set of circumstances is a bit unlikely for the introduction of other biosimilar drugs. Many will be looking to Mylan and its commercialization of pegfilgrastim as the next test of biosimilar market success.
When President Trump announced the broad strokes of his drug price reform initiative, some of these measures seemed on target to benefit the biosimilars industry. However long awaited, makers of originator biologics seemed not to be worried about its implications. The President may not be able to effect much change, without causing unintended adverse consequences.
According to its blueprint, the Trump Administration “believes it is time to realign the system in four ways: increasing competition, improving government negotiation tools, creating incentives for lower list prices, and bringing down out-of-pocket costs for consumers.”
Increasing competition is critical to improving biosimilar access. But this cannot be achieved with one action. Several areas—some addressed and others not by the blueprint—are key.
Reining in Drug Patent Abuse
Aimed squarely at drug makers who try to extend exclusivity through multiple patent filings, this is the one action that could improve biosimilar prospects. Limited biosimilar access is caused by the inability to market these drugs after Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. Patent litigation is the number 1 issue here. The President said, “Our patent system will reward innovation, but it will not be used as a shield to protect unfair monopolies.”
Without significant overhaul of the drug patent system (or the system for ruling on the validity of patents), this is unlikely to benefit biosimilar manufacturers in the near term. This effort could take many years and may have negative effects on the protection of legitimate intellectual property.
This is likely to result in little relief for the biosimilar industry.
Price Disclosures in Consumer Advertising
The fact that originator specialty biologics—the medications targeted for biosimilar competition—cost thousands of dollars may be a revelation to consumers who pay fixed copays for them. President Trump’s plan would require manufacturers to disclose the cost of the drug on direct-to-consumer advertisements.
The assumption is that this would be required across the board, including biosimilars. Would consumers recognize that their Renflexis® biosimilar costs thousands less than Remicade® in terms of wholesale acquisition cost? Not likely. In terms of net cost to the payer (not the patient generally), the price differential is far less. Even if the true costs were posted on consumer advertising, Mr. and Mrs. Smith would still hear or see that Renflexis costs thousands of dollars. They may even be further confused, because their out-of-pocket cost will likely be far less, unless a deductible applies.
An Emphasis on Value-Based Purchasing
The Obama Administration was committed to expansion of value-based purchasing. The present administration wants to further explore the potential of this policy, but it has not spelled out any specifics. It could be a boon to biosimilars based on the implications of value-based purchasing itself. After all, biosimilars are in existence to provide better value. More details are needed on its extent and whether implementation will occur through Health and Human Services or through Congress before useful opinions can be rendered.
Lower Drug Prices in US, Higher Elsewhere
The United States has very little ability to compel drug prices to rise for health systems in Europe, Canada, or Mexico, for instance, and as a result, lower them in this country. Pharmaceutical companies charge what the market will bear. Unless the Trump Administration can somehow convince the UK to pay more for Rituxan®/MabThera®, Humira®, or Enbrel®, these drug prices will not be altered.
There are reasons these countries pay the prices they do. It is related to their bidding or tender systems and the fact that other countries will exclude coverage at higher prices.
Consider another practical issue—why does a price increase in Germany mean a price decrease in the US (and for whom—Medicare, Medicaid, 340b facilities, commercial plans)? If such a move could be achieved, how does the Administration convince drug makers to apply those greater revenues obtained globally to greater discounts or rebates to Americans? It is more likely that the pharmaceutical industry will pass the increased profits to shareholders.
If these specialty drugs were forced to lower their price in the US, would that apply to biosimilars as well? That may not work towards long-term viability of the industry, depending on the measures taken.
Removing Rebates and Improving the Value of Biosimilars
One thing can actually improve cost transparency and possibly force pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to change their value model. If the Congress decides that drug rebates run afoul of laws against kickbacks, this could compel far lower wholesale acquisition costs (WACs). It would also have the effect of lowering patients’ cost sharing. Co-insurance is commonly based on the WAC not the net cost of the drug to the payer or PBM.
In this case, biosimilar manufacturers’ true WAC discounts can be applied directly and drive the “rebate trap” out of existence.
Applying this rule to commercial plans, Medicare Advantage, and part D providers would be a direct improvement in the current situation and could lower system-wide health costs. That assumes that manufacturers don’t sense an opportunity to raise prices by say 8% when they no longer have to pay 15% rebates.
Missed Opportunity: Using the Negotiating Power of Medicare
If the Administration was interested in reining in drug costs, the first serious step would be to let the Medicare program negotiate with manufacturers. This large purchaser getting its best deals from the natural competitive marketplace. It may require some adjustments in Medicaid “best price” assumptions, however.
It does seem that biosimilar makers could benefit from several of the policy changes proposed by the Trump Administration. However, the blueprint released is just that—weak on details and not specific to avoiding unintended consequences. Furthermore, it does not anticipate the reactive responses of the stakeholders involved. I guarantee there will be much more discussion as the government’s actions are announced.
In an announcement that surprised few, Teva Pharmaceuticals announced that its generic version of trientine hydrochloride (Syprine®) for the treatment of Wilson’s disease will be sold for a very nongeneric price. Also unsurprising, Teva executives did not address the fact that the price of Syprine had been jacked up astronomically by Valeant Pharmaceuticals only recently, to $21,267 in 2015 from a mere $652 in 2010. Also, Syprine had been available since 1969.
An outrage? Yes of course, but not surprising for a number of reasons. Wilson’s disease is an extremely rare disease, on the order of 5,000 patients. At a price of $652 per person, the resulting revenue might be a paltry $3.2 million.
In preparation for launch, Teva evidently looked at its options for discounts based on the current list price, not the pricing from several years ago. This is also unsurprising. However, the discount offered is not great—$18,375 for a bottle of 100 pills.
Wilson’s disease is the result of a genetic disorder of the liver that causes hepatic cells to accumulate and store excess copper. The disease impairs the liver’s ability to excrete copper into the bile and then into the gastrointestinal tract. The copper build-up is toxic to the liver, and can cause cirrhosis and death. Ordinarily treated with d-pencillamine, patients can be intolerant to it and require additional therapy, such as trientine.
As most payers know, generic pricing today is unlike generic pricing of the past. Even relatively simple compounds, available for decades, are subject to competitive forces like number of manufacturers and supply. However, demand seems to be the one market force that is not in play. With so few potential patients, overall demand would seem low, particularly with pencillamine already available to treat patients.
Teva’s pricing could have reflected the reality of 2010 or the reality of 2018. The company chose the latter, which so many others would also do today. If an additional generic was introduced into the market dynamic (though unlikely due to the demand), pricing (or at least net costs) could be strongly affected.
Payers hope to see this dynamic play out in the biosimilars arena as well. With a single biosimilar agent competing against the reference product, the retail cost discounts have been small. But with the introduction of additional competition, net costs (if not wholesale average costs) will fall rapidly.