Up to 5 Biosimilar Horses in the Race for Adalimumab in Europe: Heading for the Starting Gate

A long-sought dream in the United States will be a welcome reality in Europe this October: a stampede for Abbvie’s marketshare with adalimumab biosimilars and the savings that go with it.

Four or possibly five manufacturers will be lined up in the starting gate. Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin Biologics and its marketing partner Mylan have not yet received approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), but they do have a positive opinion from the Committee on Human Medicinal Products. They expect to hear a final decision from the EMA by October and hope to market it that same month, joining the other adalimumab biosimilar drugmakers.

Those who already have approval to race include:

Manufacturer/Marketing  Partner

Molecule Designation

Brand Name

Samsung Bioepis/Merck
SB5
Imraldi
Boehringer Ingelheim
BI 695501
Cyltezo
Amgen
ABP 501
Amgevita
Sandoz
GP2017
Hyrimoz
Adapted from: http://www.gabionline.net/Biosimilars/General/Biosimilars-of-adalimumab.

Several other manufacturers are also in the running, but will be late entries. They have completed phase III studies but their biosimilar adalimumab applications are not yet filed: Coherus, Pfizer, Fresenius, and Momenta.

adalimumab biosimilarsOn October 16, Abbvie’s Humira® patent expires and the starting gate should open. We’ve not seen anything similar in the US biosimilar market. Even when Abbvie’s patents expire in 2022 and agreements go into effect, this will be more of a staggered start, with Amgen having first crack at the market in January 2023 followed by Samsung Bioepis in June of that year. That is, unless another biosimilar manufacturer refuses to sign a licensing agreement with Abbvie and launches at risk earlier.

In any case, the savings seen in the EU should be immediate and if competition is not hindered, adalimumab biosimilar prices will be slashed. It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out, with one of the world’s biologic sales leaders.

It will certainly leave American payers dreaming about what could be, but will not be, for several years at least.

Let’s not Knock Innovation, but Biosimilars Exist for the Sake of Competition

A recent Twitter conversation between a blogging colleague of mine and a German advocate of precision medicine propelled this post: What is the real benefit of biosimilars? Does biosimilar development detract from efforts to produce innovative medicines? Is the main societal benefit biosimilar cost savings?

biosimilar cost savings

Biosimilar Development Is Separate From Innovation Development

The main reason that the Biologics and Biosimilars Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA) was signed into legislation was related to cost containment. For biologics, there was no pathway for the evaluation and approval for lower-cost copies in the US health system, akin to the generic-brand name dynamic for conventional drugs. Adding competition has been the first and only point. The specialty drug trend had been rising rapidly, and the long-term estimates were frightening: Costs associated with specialty drugs like biologics threaten to eat 48% of the total drug spending pie in the United States by 2020.

Two factors were responsible. The first, increasing specialty drug utilization, has been especially difficult to address. The pipeline is congested with biologics. Medical societies are increasingly incorporating biologics into their guidelines and clinical pathways. Prescribers have grown more comfortable with these agents, and payers have limited tools at their disposal to put the brakes on their use.

The second, price increases, are well known and publicized. Without competition, drug companies tend to test what the market will bear, and to this point, they have borne quite a bit. Unlike in Europe, where the tender system of pharmaceutical purchasing has resulted in better cost containment, the US payers have been accustomed to stomaching large price increases through increased use of rebate contracts with price guarantees. But the overall costs continue to rise, as contracts expire and new ones are drawn up. Thus, the list prices for drugs like Enbrel® and Humira® have skyrocketed, with Humira’s more than doubling in a few years.

There is no evidence to say that biosimilar manufacturers would have engaged in the development of innovative new agents had they not devoted resources to this area. Indeed, pure-play biosimilar makers, like Coherus or Adello, were only introduced to produce biosimilars. Other makers, such as Samsung Bioepis, are joint ventures of existing manufacturers to do the same. Biogen recently raised its stake in Samsung Bioepis to nearly 50% of the company’s shares. This could be construed as a case of an originator company pouring $700 million into a biosimilar manufacturer, which could be using that money directly for other purposes. Finally, firms like Apotex, Mylan, Sandoz, and Hospira (now part of Pfizer) are heavily involved in generic drug manufacturing. Biosimilar development was a natural extension for them. Even big pharma players, such as Amgen, Merck, and Pfizer, are more commonly engaged in biosimilar marketing partnerships rather than purely R&D efforts (e.g., Amgen/Allergan, Merck/Samsung Bioepis, Pfizer/Celltrion).

One can also make an argument that pharmaceutical innovation is more evident at the drug discovery level. These days, big pharma seems less interested in pursuing drug discovery than in purchasing it.

The Societal Benefits of Biosimilars

The EMA and FDA biosimilar pathways were created to introduce competition that would lower drug costs. This in turn would make innovative biologic therapy available to more patients. Biosimilar cost savings could drive greater access to important drug technologies.

With the EU’s longer and more extensive experience with biosimilar medications, costs have indeed been saved. Although this has varied by country, it is undeniable.

In the US, with very limited economic experience with biosimilars (filgrastim and infliximab), savings figures are more theoretical than real. Although the infusion of a biosimilar into the new market may reduce wholesale acquisition price of the reference drug a bit, it will have a greater effect on net pricing, after rebates. And, of more immediate importance, the new biosimilar has the potential to halt further price increases for the originator product. This aspect of biosimilars cost savings cannot be overemphasized. Between the first adalimumab biosimilar approval and the initial availability of these products in 2023, the list price of Humira can increase upwards of 40% (or more, if Abbvie veers from its pledge to limit price increases). The initial price of the first adalimumab biosimilar will thus be much higher than if it was launched last year. On the other hand, adalimumab biosimilars will launch in the EU in October of this year, which should effectively lower cost products and limit their EU members’ exposure to future Humira price increases.

Biosimilar cost savings can have real benefits in terms of improved access. Payers’ incentives to use biosimilars (if they are motivated to implement them) can result in lower patient cost sharing. For example, a fourth-tier biologic may be subject to a 20% cost share, whereas a third-tier biosimilar may carry a flat copay of $100. This can make a difference in terms of therapeutic choices available to patients.

In conclusion, the German correspondent is only partly right. Biosimilars are not innovative. They are highly complex, cost-control medications. Do they detract the focus of manufacturers from new innovative products? There’s no evidence of this. However, we are beginning to see limited evidence in the US of the societal benefits, namely cost savings, they can bring.

Trastuzumab Dosing May Be Given in Half the Time: Will Costs/Revenues Be Cut as Well?

An upcoming presentation at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting promises equal efficacy and much improved safety for patients with early-stage breast cancer receiving Herceptin®. This change in trastuzumab dosing from a 12-month to a 6-month regimen will have ramifications for patients, health systems, and manufacturers.

trastuzumab biosimilarA number of biosimilar drug makers are trying to be the first to enter the market for trastuzumab. Mylan/Biocon’s Ogivri™ (trastuzumab-dkst) is the only approved agent in the US, but it will not launch before 2019, owing to a licensing agreement with Roche. Amgen/Allergan is expecting word from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by May 28th on their own biosimilar version. Samsung Bioepis is also expecting a decision in the fourth quarter of this year. This new study could significantly lower anticipated revenues for these drug makers. The expected pricing pressures of the category (another 2 manufacturers are working through complete response letters from the FDA) will further add to lower revenue.

Trastuzumab Study Results: Half as Long Just as Good

This British study comprised over 4,000 women (median age, 56 yr) who were followed for more than five years. Patients were randomized to receive the originator trastuzumab for either six or 12 months, in addition to usual standard of care. The researchers found that the disease-free survival was 89.8% in the 12-month group compared with 89.4% for the 6-month group. However, the latter showed significantly fewer toxic effects of cancer therapy.

The wholesale acquisition cost for trastuzumab approaches $6,400 per month ($76,700 per 12-mo course). This may lower patients’ out-of-pocket costs, depending on how quickly they reach their cost-sharing maximums. Typically, women taking trastuzumab will be subject to a fixed copay (e.g., $300 per treatment) or a co-insurance (e.g., 20% or $1,280 per month) for this medication alone. Yet, even with the treatment duration being halved, some patients may reach their out-of-pocket maximums. This is the result of office visits, other medications to be taken, and other care related to the toxic side effects of chemotherapy.

Half the Duration but not Half the Costs

For payers and health systems, cost savings will be substantial, but not halved. Most of the costs will be incurred with the first 4 months of weekly therapy. After 12 to 18 weeks, treatments are stretched out to infusions every 3 weeks for the remainder of the regimen. For a 100-kg woman who would receive a total of 5,400 mg of trastuzumab over 52 weeks, this could be reduced to 3,666 mg over 26 weeks (–32%).

The real benefit, should these study results pass scrutiny of peer review and inclusion in practice guidelines, will be in the lower frequency of toxic adverse effects. According to its prescribing information, trastuzumab is associated with “left ventricular cardiac dysfunction, arrhythmias, hypertension, disabling 197 cardiac failure, cardiomyopathy, and cardiac death.” This can occur during therapy (causing discontinuation) or in the years after treatment is completed.

We hope that the good news represented by these study results for patients does not dissuade other manufacturers from seeking biosimilar trastuzumab approval.

Plans Use Step Therapy to Encourage Utilization of Remicade Over Biosimilars

Health plans and insurers are not yet turning to biosimilar infliximab as a preferred therapy, according to Gillian Woollett, DPhil, MA, of Avalere. Her new report surveyed publicly available policy about health plans across the nation. The principal finding was that step therapy was commonly used  to encourage use of the originator product.

In fact, just one health plan (representing 1% of the 172 million lives covered in this study) supported the use of either Inflectra® or Renflexis® over the reference product Remicade® through step therapy. One plan (2% of the covered lives) allowed the use of either the originator product or Inflectra as a first step.

Gillian Woollett of Avalere on step therapy and biosimilars
Gillian Woollett

Four of the 18 plans with publicly available information did not utilize step-therapy rules for any forms of infliximab. However, “10 of the 18 plans (55% of plans, 52% of covered lives) require the use of [Remicade] first, alone or in combination with another DMARD,” stated Dr. Woollett in the report. A total of 81% of the covered lives from these 18 plans were subject to step therapies limiting access to one infliximab product or the other.

On its face, this type of step policy makes a bit of sense. Step therapies are often used alone or part of prior authorization mechanisms to make sure patients try more cost-effective agents first. In rheumatoid arthritis, that may comprise use of nonbiologic drugs before proceeding to a TNF inhibitor and then to another biologic in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. However, there is no proven benefit (or even logic) to offering a biosimilar infliximab after failing Remicade, or vice versa. If there was a significant clinically relevant difference in immunogenicity, this could be an issue, but this also has not been seen in practice. It makes more sense to try another anti-TNF or perhaps even move to an interleukin inhibitor—something with a different (or slightly different) mode of action.

A policy such as this can confuse the issue for patients, whose knowledge of biosimilars seems tenuous, and even providers, some of whom have little experience prescribing them, particularly because of payers’ Remicade-first policies.

The Avalere report provides some support for how payers are arresting utilization of biosimilar infliximab in favor of the originator infliximab product.

Dr. Woollett paints a very different picture for subcutaneously administered filgrastim products. Forty-nine percent of the covered lives (five large plans) had policies favoring Zarxio®, whereas 27% of covered lives were encouraged to use Neupogen® first.  For these 18 plans, five (28% of plans, 49% of covered lives) demonstrate a preference for the biosimilar, filgrastim-sndz. Five (28% of plans, 27% of covered lives) demonstrate a preference for the reference filgrastim. Eight plans (44% of plans, 24% of covered lives) do not indicate a preference through formulary design. A further 24% were not subject to any preference.

Fujifilm Gains Further Exposure in Biosimilar Partnerships

The biosimilar industry continues to make strange bedfellows. In July 2016, I reported in the Center for Biosimilars that a subsidiary of the Japanese camera maker, Fujifilm, had jumped into the biosimilar field. The Indian pharmaceutical company Biocon announced that it has launched its new insulin glargine biosimilar in Japan. Fujifilm Pharma Co, Ltd was named as the partner in this endeavor to commercialize the product in Japan.

Fujifilm Pharma is a producer of diagnostic and therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals, in addition to contrast media. This makes sense, as the parent is in the imaging business. Medical imaging can be a very natural extension of this activity. But biosimilars?

To reaffirm its strategy, Fujifilm announced a new partnership.  Its Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin Biologics subsidiary will manufacture a adalimumab biosimilar in the EU (filed for approval in the EU only) and will be commercialized by Mylan if approved. There is no information about whether Fujifilm will seek authorization to market this biosimilar in the US down the road.

Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin AstraZenecaTo further its chances of commercializing this biosimilar in the EU, Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin Biologics joined a lawsuit in April 2017 with Samsung Bioepis and its partner Biogen. The lawsuit, filed in the UK, sought to invalidate Abbvie’s two remaining adalimumab patents, and the UK court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, opening the door to marketing next year in Europe. Fujifilm also has a bevacizumab biosimilar (FKB 238) in phase 3 clinical investigation.

The parent company has over 200 subsidiaries, and it can be complicated to track which ones are directly involved. For example, another Fujifilm company, Fujifilm Diosynth, does contract manufacturing of biologics. Yet, the phase 3 trial being carried out on FKB238 is sponsored by Centus Biotherapeutics Limited, which is a joint venture between Astra Zeneca and Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin Biologics. Centus seems to be involved only with the bevacizumab biosimilar, not with the adalimumab agent. Despite this web of intrigue, Fujifilm is not likely to be overexposed in the biosimilar marketplace. It is also unknown whether their efforts will be affected by the recent difficulties of its partners Biocon and Mylan with getting its pegfilgrastim biosimilar approved. It has been reported that Biocon will also benefit from this latest Mylan collaboration.

With the Samsung Bioepis Deal, Abbvie Tightening Its Grip on the US Adalimumab Market

Samsung Bioepis and Biogen has reached a deal with Abbvie that would enable it to market its biosimilar adalimumab (should it be granted approval) in June 2023. This is the second deal Abbvie has made with a potential competitor, confirming the solidity of its patent wall. The European patent expires in October 2018, and competitors will be able to sell biosimilars over the pond unhindered at that time.

However, without competition, most expect unencumbered price increases until a US biosimilar introduction. In other words, biosimilars will not make an appreciable impact on the cost of adalimumab in the US market, unless another biosimilar manufacturer decides to launch at risk in the near future.

A Deal Prior to FDA Approval

The agent, SB5 has not yet been filed for approval in the US. Samsung filed its application for approval in the EU in July 2016 and was authorized by the European Medical Agency in August 2017. Biogen will market the agent for Samsung, whenever it is launched.

Amgen inked a deal with Abbvie in September 2017, effectively ending its patent battle. This deal gives Amgen a jump on other competitors that reach settlements with Abbvie, by allowing a launch in January 2023. In addition, other manufacturers are working on adalimumab biosimilars, including Coherus and Sandoz. The biggest question though is Boehringer Ingelheim’s move, as they have the only other FDA-approved adalimumab biosimilar approved on the marketplace (but also unlaunched). Boehringer responded to our request but declined to comment on its plans mAbbvie produces Humira (adalimumab)oving forward with the product, including a targeted launch date.

Without Competition, Expect 45% Jump in WAC Price 

As addressed earlier in this space, the time to effective competition for a US biosimilar adalimumab is crucial. Abbvie’s annual global revenue on the product may reach as much as $21 billion, with the last price increase registered in January, at 9.7%. Assuming Abbvie sticks to its pledge of no more than one

10% price increase per year, that would result in a wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) of more than $52,000 at the close of 2022, or a 45% jump from today’s WAC. This figure does not reflect individual negotiated rates (including rebates) that health plans and insurers actually pay. Yet, it does roughly indicate what type of discount will be necessary when biosimilars reach the market to simply attain the cost paid in 2018—that is, no more savings. Without competition before 2023, this may be the one area where payers pray for a rapid and bracing race to the bottom on price once 2023 rolls around. With Abbvie’s hand continuing on the tiller, don’t plan on it.

In other biosimilar news…Celltrion acknowledged that it is seeking to rectify the manufacturing plant issues that torpedoed its FDA approval of biosimilars for trastuzumab and rituximab. In the statement, it noted, “Celltrion is confident that the issues raised by the FDA will be resolved in a timely manner.

We can confirm that the resubmission will be in-place relatively soon. Then, we are expecting approvals in 6 months after resubmission according to regulatory timeline.”

Pfizer US Biosimilar Revenues Growing Slowly, Better News Internationally

According to an article posted on the Market Realist website, Pfizer’s US and global biosimilars revenues are growing, but its sales of Inflectra® remainPfizer Headquarters stunted.

In the fourth-quarter of 2017, the New York–based company posted US biosimilar revenues of $44 million—all attributable to its infliximab biosimilar. The product was launched in Q4 2016 (and gained only $4 million in revenues), but the revenue was reported to be somewhat higher than in Q3 2017. Total 2017 Inflectra revenue was $118 million.

Internationally, where Pfizer not only markets Inflectra, but its Retacrit® form of epoetin alpha and its Nivestim® brand of filgrastim, biosimilars contributed $531 million to the bottom line in 2017, an increase of 37% compared to the previous year.

There is little doubt that Pfizer’s US Inflectra revenues will continue to increase, but competition from Samsung/Merck’s Renflexis® and Janssen Biotech’s continuing heavy rebates on Remicade® should prove challenging to Pfizer. Merck has not yet reported its Q3 or Q4 sales of Renflexis, which was only launched in July 2017.

Pfizer’s second US biosimilar approval was also for an infliximab biosimilar (a legacy product from its Hospira acquisition). This agent, infliximab-qbtx, dubbed Ixifi™, was approved in December 2017 and will apparently not be launched in the US.

 

Its next big splash into the US biosimilars market may not occur in 2018. Its rituximab biosimilar (PF-05280586) met its primary outcomes measures in a phase 3 trial, as announced in January, but no target date has been yet reported for its 351(k) application to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, this product may face stiff competition from Celltrion and Sandoz for their rituximab biosimilars currently being reviewed by the FDA. Celltrion is partnered with Mylan (not Pfizer) in the commercialization of its rituximab biosimilar.

Pfizer’s At-Risk Launch of Inflectra Pays Off (at Least a Bit)

The US Court of Appeals handed Pfizer a big victory in its gamble to bring its biosimilar version of Remicade® to the market before the completion of patent litigation. On January 23, the Appeals Court ruled that Johnson & Johnson’s ‘471 patent in the case was declared invalid, clearing the way for sales of Inflectra® (infliximab-dyyb). Had Pfizer lost the suit, J&J could have sought Inflectra’s (and Samsung/Merck’s Renflexis®’s) revenues in addition to other damage claims.

Remicade’s ‘471 patent expiration was September 2018, but the US Patent and Trademark Office earlier ruling contended that the antibodies at the center of this patent were already included in patents that had previously expired.

Remicade is manufactured and sold by J&J’s subsidiary, Janssen Biotech.

In a widely publicized case, Pfizer sued J&J in September 2017 for anticompetitive practices, which it believes held down the sales of Inflectra to a spare $74 million for the first three quarters of last year. Although J&J is seeking to appeal the decision, with the patent expiration date looming, as well as limited sales of Inflectra, this would seem to be of relatively little benefit.

In any case, J&J is wary of losing marketshare and revenues on Remicade. According to Bloomberg News, Janssen Biotech saw fourth-quarter revenues from the biologic drop almost 10%, to $1.47 billion. Increasing competition from other biologics for similar indications and other biosimilar versions of infliximab worldwide have contributed to reduced sales.

Fourth Herceptin® Biosimilar Being Evaluated by FDA

The end of 2017 has been bustling with oncology biosimilar news.

On December 20, 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accepted Samsung Bioepis’ application for SB3, its biosimilar version of trastuzumab. The drug would be the fourth to undergo evaluation by the FDA, and may pack on the pressure for Mylan and Biocon’s product Ogivri, which is the only approved biosimilar trastuzumab.

Mylan/Biocon’s biosimilar was approved earlier this month. As a reminder, though, there are no plans to bring their version of trastuzumab to market immediately. Indications are that Breast Cancerowing to an agreement with Roche, they may not launch until 2019 (at the earliest). Trastuzumab biosimilar entries by Celltrion and Amgen/Allergan will not receive FDA decisions until the second quarter of next year. It is unclear whether these manufacturers will decide to launch their versions at risk, thus stealing the initiative from Mylan and its partner. In any case, competition should be vigorous when these products launch (which should be within 12 months of the first launch, assuming FDA approvals). At present, the question is open as to whether Samsung will market SB3 if it receives a positive decision sometime in the fourth quarter of 2018.

In related news…A survey of 200 oncologists revealed that their comfort levels with prescribing biosimilars is widespread. Cardinal Health published a report based on the survey on December 20.

Although these result may relate to oncologists’ multiyear experience with Zarxio® (filgrastim), 82% of the oncologists responding to the survey specifically indicated that they would have no qualms about using biosimilars to treat patients with breast cancer in an adjuvant setting or if they had metastatic disease. As indicated above, no biosimilars are currently marketed for this indication. Furthermore, they expect significant cost savings when using biosimilars: Two thirds said that cost savings with biosimilars are either extremely or very important in their prescribing decision. That’s pretty much the point of biosimilars, isn’t it?

A Pre-Holiday Gift for Pfizer—a Second Infliximab Biosimilar Approval. Now What?

On December 14, Pfizer got an early Christmas present, the approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the second infliximab biosimilar in which it has a stake. First came Inflectra® in 2016, and here comes Ixifi™ (infliximab-qbtx). Unlike Inflectra, which Pfizer markets for Celltrion, Ixifi is Pfizer’s alone—Web image for headera product that was under development at the time of the acquisition.

This of course puts Pfizer in an interesting position. Ixifi would be the third infliximab biosimilar to reach the market, after Inflectra and Samsung/Merck’s Renflexis™. True, Inflectra has limited marketshare in the US, and competition from more heavily discounted Renflexis could compound the situation.

It seems that Ixifi is not intended to reach the US market at all, and may be marketed in other countries where the Celltrion agreement does not hold sway. However, this begs the question: Why did Pfizer decide to go apply for a 351(k) application for FDA approval? That is unclear at this time. Perhaps they will use this biosimilar as insurance if Inflectra does not perform as promised. On the other hand, Pfizer could license it to another manufacturer and collect additional royalties from its sales in the US and overseas.

For those of you who guessed the last choice, congratulations! Under a deal signed in early 2016, Sandoz obtained the rights to market this agent in the European Economic Area. This would enable Pfizer to earn cash rewards and other prizes from two biologics in the same biosimilar category.