Rituximab Biosimilar Approved by FDA for Cancer Treatment

On November 28, 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the approval of rituximab-abbs (Truxima™), produced by Celltrion and marketed by Teva.

Approval for this rituximab biosimilar was overwhelmingly recommended by the FDA’s Oncology Drug Advisory Committee by a vote of 16-0 in October. It is the first biosimilar agent approved for the treatment of relapsed or refractory, low grade, or follicular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—specifically in adult patients with the CD20+ B-cell variety. The drug makers did not seek approval for the Rituxan’s autoimmune indications, and the FDA did not grant extrapolated approval for them.

rituximab biosimilarAccording to the FDA’s announcement, the most common side effects of Truxima are infusion reactions, fever, abnormally low level of lymphocytes in the blood (lymphopenia), chills, infection and weakness (asthenia). Health care providers are advised to monitor patients for tumor lysis syndrome (a complication of treatment where tumor cells are killed off at the same time and released into the bloodstream), cardiac adverse reactions, damage to kidneys (renal toxicity), and bowel obstruction and perforation.

This leaves a wide open marketing window for Celltrion and Teva, as Sandoz announced in late October that it was halting its effort to bring its own rituximab biosimilar to the market. There is no word as of this writing regarding the launch and pricing of Truxima in the US. This also represents the second FDA approval for Celltrion; its infliximab biosimilar, Inflectra, was approved in 2016.

In Other Biosimilar News… As BR&R reported in our October discussion with Molly Burich, MS, Director, Public Policy: Biosimilars and Pipeline, Boehringer Ingelheim had decided to forego marketing its adalimumab biosimilar Cyltezo® in the EU. This is likely owing to the highly competitive environment and the huge pricing discounts being signed by European countries. However, Boehringer has now announced its intention to discontinue all efforts to market and develop any biosimilars outside of the US market. This may come as little surprise, as the Boehringer biosimilar pipeline was not aggressively stocked. Instead, it has been focused on seeking interchangeability status for Cyltezo and to launch this product as soon as possible.

United Kingdom to Save 75% on Annual Humira Spending

Since the October expiration of Abbvie’s EU patent, the potential Humirsavings seem to be truly mind-blowing. After implementing its contracts for adalimumab, the UK National Health Service (NHS) should save about three quarters of the $514 million (£400 million) it spends each year on this product alone.

In a fixed-budgeted system like that in the UK, the real implications of these savings become clear. According to the NHS, this additional $385 million (£300 million) will enable it to pay for 11,700 community care nurses or 19,800 treatments in patients with breast cancer.

And to earn these Humira SavingsHumira savings, the NHS does not exclude using the originator product Humira. It has signed contracts (with large price cuts) with Abbvie, as well as with biosimilar manufacturers Amgen, Biogen, Mylan and its partner Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin, and Sandoz.

Could the US see such savings on adalimumab in 5 years? Although the competition may be fierce when the brand loses patent protection in 2023, Abbvie has created a stepped-launch scenario with its licensing agreements. Rather than a jailbreak of competition, as we are seeing in the EU with patent expiration there in October 2018, the timing of the licensing agreements may limit the drop in per-unit price, at least for the first year or so.

After that time, payers will be able to choose from all biosimilar adalimumab manufacturers, which should then drive pricing down (or rebates up) considerably, resulting in long-sought lower net costs. However, this will happen only after years of price increases by Abbvie. Abbvie has not claimed, while it is drastically slashing its price in the EU, that it will be losing money. In part, that is because its US revenues on Humira will continue to be at over $10 billion a year. Furthermore, its revenues largely reflect pure profit on the manufacturing of the product today, as its research and development costs were covered 15 years ago and ongoing marketing costs are a tiny fraction of this figure.

Despite repeated protestations in the US that healthcare resources are not unlimited, our system is not based on a fixed budget. It is not disingenuous to consider savings in the terms posed by NHS. Defining the large savings in terms of other useful expenditures give people a concrete idea of how the money can be better used. The need for savings on drug expenditures is acute in this nation, and biosimilars will eventually lead the way.

Momenta Signs Licensing Deal With Abbvie. Did It Have a Choice?

We previously reported that Momenta Pharmaceuticals reevaluated its biopharmaceutical strategy going forward, deciding to move forward only with its investigational adalimumab and aflibercept biosimilars. Yesterday, Momenta announced that it has joined the long queue of pharmaceutical manufacturers signing a biosimilar licensing deal with Abbvie, which will allow commercialization of M923, its biosimilar to Humira, should it obtain regulatory approval. Momenta’s licensing deal is the fifth one signed by prospective biosimilar marketers in the US.

This agreement was pretty much a no-brainer for Momenta. The company did not have the stomach for attempting either an extended patent fight or an at-risk launch. However, the biosimilar licensing agreement only allows Momenta to market its adalimumab biosimilar in the US after December 2023, which will make it the fifth Humira biosimilar that will launch under the licensing agreements (Table). The main patents for Humira have expired in Europe, and these agreements have generally allowed the European launches to occur as of October 16 of this year.

Of the manufacturers signing biosimilar licensing deals with Abbvie , only Amgen and Sandoz have earned FDA approval for Amjevita® and Hyrimoz®, respectively. And Boehringer Ingelheim is still duking out patent litigation with Abbvie in the courts over its approved biosimilar agent Cytelzo®, for which it hopes to receive an interchangeability designation. The second through fifth agents entering the fight will be likely pounding away at subsequently smaller slices of revenue.

Perhaps the most frustrating part is that Abbvie is running a lucrative game; it will collect royalties from all of these manufacturers in 2023 and beyond, which will help offset declining marketshare from its biggest revenue contributor.

 

In Abbvie’s Web: Who Has Signed Licensing Agreements for Biosimilar Adalimumab?

Company/Partner

Drug Name

Launch Date

Amgen

Amjevita*

January 2023

Samsung Bioepis/Merck

SB5

June 2023

Mylan/Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin Biologics

Hulio

August 2023

Sandoz

Hyrimoz*

September 2023

Momenta

M923

December 2023

*Received FDA Approval.

Note: This post was revised and corrected, November 8, 2018.

Sandoz Decides Against Marketing Rituximab Biosimilar in US

On October 30, Novartis announced that it was culling its investigational drug pipeline and dropping 20% of its development programs. Just three days later, its subsidiary Sandoz announced that it would halt its efforts to obtain approval for its biosimilar version of rituximab from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The decision by Sandoz to halt its rituximab biosimilar filing efforts seems to have culminated from Novartis’ announcement and FDA actions.

Sandoz had received a complete response letter on May 2, 2018 in its attempt to obtain approval for use for Rituxan®’s oncologic (but not autoimmune) indications. According to Sandoz’s press releaSandoz Halts Rituximab Biosimilar Filingse, the FDA had asked them for additional information before providing a new decision. Sandoz did not specify the type of data sought in the request, although the company’s Global Head of Biopharmaceuticals, Stefan Hedriks, hinted that additional studies were involved. He stated, “We appreciate the important conversations with the FDA, which have provided specific requirements for our potential US biosimilar rituximab, but believe the patient and marketplace needs in the US will be satisfied before we can generate the data required.” Generally, that means more than a re-analysis of existing data. This seems to be the principal reason for its decision to development and the rituximab biosimilar filing.

However, Rituxan is already available in several major markets, including Australia and New Zealand, the European Union, Japan, and Switzerland. Sandoz received US approval for three biosimilars, but only Zarxio® is currently marketed. Next up for Sandoz will be a refiling for FDA approval of its pegfilgrastim biosimilar. The company announced the original FDA rejection of this product in July 2016.

A Third Biosimilar Adalimumab Approval in the US and Potentially Huge Humira Price Discount in Europe

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.

Pfizer’s Anticompetitive Suit: A Slippery Slope to Competitive Bidding?

When Pfizer first announced its lawsuit against Janssen’s parent Johnson & Johnson in September 2017, it pointed to exclusionary contracting, “anticompetitive” behavior of Remicade®’s maker as the reason for its very limited market access.

The lawsuit claimed that Janssen has withheld or threatened to withhold rebates if payers do not keep Remicade in an exclusive preferred position. The degree to which health plans knuckled under to these demands may only be inferred from the 3% marketshare Pfizer’s Inflectra® now holds. For these drugs, which are still typically covered under the medical benefit, “nonpreferred positioning” usually means no coverage. For drugs covered under the pharmacy benefit, this is not the case.

In August, the Eastern Court of Pennsylvania ruled against J&J in its request that the lawsuit be dismissed. While discovery in the case may be ongoing, we could not find mention of a resolution date for the suit.exclusionary contracting

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the Eastern Court of Pennsylvania rules in favor of Janssen. In other words, exclusionary contracting was not an anticompetitive behavior. That means the status quo is intact, but some factors may affect this situation going forward. These include the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ desire to move part B drugs (the medical benefit) to part D (the pharmacy benefit) for Medicare beneficiaries.

The scrutiny on rebate contracting coming from several sectors, and lack of transparency, may also independently influence future use of these pharmaceutical company tactics. I helped conduct a market research project recently on a nonspecialty drug. As part of these interviews, we were asked by the client to inquire about the range of rebates they were receiving from competitor manufacturers. Their responses were requested as a range (e.g., 20% to 30%), not specific contract details, and we had no intention of providing reports of individual payer deals, only anonymous, aggregate information. We expected little to no response to that query, and that is exclusionary contractingexactly what we received.

Let’s discuss the other potential outcome, in which the Court rules in favor of Pfizer. That implies that this exclusionary contracting practice is indeed anticompetitive. If this is the case, we may be on a very slippery slope. What is the difference between payers and pharma companies engaging in a “1 of 1” contract when there are multiple potential products and a “1 of 2” contract? In both cases, drug makers are committing payers to anticompetitive behavior (as perhaps defined by the Court’s new precedent).

The preferred drug tier (whether preferred generics, preferred brands or whatever) is supposed to be for products with proven clinical, patient care, or economic advantages. Truthfully, payers rarely place medications in the preferred tier for reasons other than net costs or rebate contracting, which is based on marketshare.

Now add in the potential effects of the Administration’s desired shift to part D, where pharmacy benefit rules can be applied. That exposes injectable products that were shielded under Medicare part B to commonly applied formulary placement practices.

To be complete, Janssen’s strategy was not solely based on Remicade. It may be found to have bundled Remicade with other agents in deals to exclude Pfizer’s products. The Court may also react specifically to Janssen’s contract stipulation that threatens to withhold rebates connected to future use of the product, to increase its leverage.

However, if the Court determines that 1 of 1 or exclusionary contracting with rebates are the root of the anticompetitive behavior, why should 1 of 2 or even 1 of 3 contracts in a drug category with 5 similar agents be less so? This is the slippery slope that could undo rebate contracting, and push us towards a system that more resembles a competitive bidding process like in Europe. Alternatively, it could accelerate the move towards outcomes- and value-based contracting. The result could be a system-wide revamping of the drug formulary and the pharmacy–drug maker relationship.

In other biosimilar news…Sandoz has signed a licensing agreement with Abbvie, allowing it to market its biosimilar version of Humira in 2023. The agreement, as with Abbvie’s settlements with other biosimilar makers, halts all patent litigation with Sandoz in exchange for a licensing royalty paid to Abbvie.

Tidal Wave of Pegfilgrastim Biosimilars About to Hit Europe

We had mentioned the upcoming deluge of adalimumab biosimilars aiming to hit the European market in mid-October, but another biosimilar tidal wave may actually precede this.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has had an extremely busy week in the pegfilgrastim biosimilars arena. In addition to granting marketing authorization to Coherus Biosciences for its pegfilgrastim biosimilar, it has also approved the marketing of Pelgraz®, a pegfilgrastim produced by Accord Healthcare. In addition, the EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use has also recommended approval for three pegfilgrastim biosimilars—from Sandoz, Cinfa, and Mylan.

Mylan is the only drug maker with a marketed biosimilar version of pegfilgrastim in the United States. Its product Fulphila® hit the US market in early July. Coherus’ product, Udenyca™, is awaiting a November 2 decision from the Food and Drug Administration. Coherus is reportedly looking for a partner to market its pegfilgrastim biosimilar overseas, while it intends to market the product internally in the US. This means that Accord may have the first pegfilgrastim biosimilar to reach patients in the EU, though this advantage will be short lived should Mylan in particular gain approval.

In other biosimilar news…Boehringer Ingelheim announced positive results in its clinical study of Cylteza® versus Humira® in patients with moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis. The study results were announced at the European Society of Dermatology and Venereology.

Samsung Bioepis Co., Ltd. announced that the FDA has accepted its 351(k) application for SB5, a biosimilar to adalimumab. Samsung is the fourth manufacturer seeking to enter the biosimilar market for Humira. Two have been approved (Amjevita® by Amgen and Cyltezo® by Boehringer Ingelheim) but are not yet marketed. A decision on Sandoz’s application is expected later this year.

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.

Pfizer Gets FDA’s Green Light on Its Filgrastim Biosimilar

Pfizer's Biosimilar Filgrastim
FILE PHOTO – The Pfizer logo is seen at their world headquarters in Manhattan, New York, U.S., August 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

On July 20, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the second biosimilar version of filgrastim. Pfizer’s filgrastim biosimilar is named Nivestym™ (filgrastim-aafi).

The originator product, Amgen’s Neupogen®, has steep competition from two other products (Sandoz’s Zarxio® [filgrastim-sndz] and Teva’s Granix® (tbo-filgrastim]). Granix was approved as a follow-on biologic, before the biosimilar pathway was implemented.

The FDA granted Nivestym the following indications:

  • To decrease the incidence of infection, as manifested by febrile neutropenia, in patients with nonmyeloid malignancies receiving myelosuppressive anti-cancer drugs associated with a significant incidence of severe neutropenia with fever.
  • For reducing the time to neutrophil recovery and the duration of fever, following induction or consolidation chemotherapy treatment of patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
  • To reduce the duration of neutropenia and neutropenia-related clinical sequelae, e.g., febrile neutropenia, in patients with nonmyeloid malignancies undergoing myeloablative chemotherapy followed by bone marrow transplantation (BMT).
  • For the mobilization of autologous hematopoietic progenitor cells into the peripheral blood for collection by leukapheresis.
  • For chronic administration to reduce the incidence and duration of sequelae of severe neutropenia (e.g., fever, infections, oropharyngeal ulcers) in symptomatic patients with congenital neutropenia, cyclic neutropenia, or idiopathic neutropenia.

Although a launch date was not announced for Pfizer’s filgrastim biosimilar, the company’s press release stated that “Nivestym is expected to be available in the US at a significant discount to the current wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) of Neupogen.”

Rather than competing aggressively for the filgrastim market, Amgen seems to be focusing its efforts on its pegfilgrastim brand, a longer-lasting version. Specifically, it is seeking to move its utilization to the Onpro formulation of Neulasta®. The first biosimilar to pegfilgrastim was approved in June (Mylan and Biocon’s Fulphila™).

Celltrion Bounces Back, Resubmits for FDA Approval of Rituximab Biosimilar

Anticipating that its issues with the Incheon, South Korea, manufacturing plant will be resolved, Celltrion has resubmitted its biologic license application for a rituximab biosimilCelltrion rituximab biosimilarar (CT-P10).

In the April 2018 complete response letters sent by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on CT-P10 and the trastuzumab biosimilar CT-P6, FDA cited aseptic practices at the manufacturing plant that it announced in January. The resubmission should mean that a decision will come within six months of the application date, keeping it in the race for the first rituximab biosimilar.

Celltrion, in its announcement, also affirmed that it intends to resubmit its application for its trastuzumab biosimilar in June. In its press release, Celltrion stated, “Celltrion has made progress addressing the concerns raised by the FDA in the warning letter and is committed to working with the Agency to fully resolve all outstanding issues with the highest priority and urgency.”

This marks the quickest turnaround seen yet for reapplication following an FDA rejection of a biosimilar. Truxima® is the brand name of Celltrion’s rituxumab biosimilar that is approved in Europe.

In other biosimilar news…The European Commission announced a proposal that would enable biosimilar manufacturers to produce and export their products before EU full intellectual property rights terminate. This would obviate Special Protection Certificates, which were created in 1992. Under these certificates, intellectual property rights continue for 5 years after EU patent expiration. The announced change would be implemented by end of this year. It will mark the end of special compensation to pharmaceutical industry for the extended period required for research, development, and regulatory approval.

Sandoz biosimilars

Sandoz’s biosimilar version of infliximab has been approved by the European Medicines Agency. Dubbed Zessly™ this agent was the fourth infliximab biosimilar approved in Europe.