Boehringer Ingelheim Gives up the Fight, Signs AbbVie Agreement on Adalimumab

It seems that AbbVie has won the battle and the war. The last remaining holdout in the fight to bring a biosimilar adalimumab to market before 2023 has capitulated, as AbbVie announced May 14 that Boehringer Ingelheim agreed to the terms of a licensing arrangement. This agreement allows Boehringer Ingelheim to enter the marketplace July 1, 2023, getting a slight jump on some other licensees, but it effectively ends the protracted patent litigation that Boehringer hoped to win.

In an interview with BR&R, Molly Burich, Boehringer Ingelheim’s Director, Public Policy, Biosimilars and Pipeline, told us in October 2018, “We are committed to making Cyltezo® available to US patients as soon as possible and certainly before 2023.”

WHICH COMPANIES HAVE SIGNED LICENSING DEALS WITH ABBVIE?

Company/Partner Drug Name Launch Date
Amgen Amjevita* January 2023
Samsung Bioepis/Merck SB5 June 2023
Boehringer Ingelheim Cytelzo* July 2023
Mylan/Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin Biologics Hulio August 2023
Sandoz Hyrimoz* September 2023
Fresenius Kabi MSB11022 September 2023
Momenta M923 December 2023
Coherus CH-1420 December 2023
*Received FDA Approval.

However, at that time, Ms. Burich also disclosed that Cyltezo would not be commercialized in Europe; in October, the stampede of biosimilar manufacturers had just left the starting gate. In addition, Boehringer had earlier decided to drop plans to develop other biosimilars in the pipeline and focus solely on Cyltezo. That would seem to leave Boehringer out in the cold until July 2023.

In response to BR&R’s query, Susan Holz, Boehringer’s Director of Communications, Specialty Care, provided the following statement: “As we previously shared, at this point in time, our focus remains on providing patient access to our biosimilar Cyltezo in the US, and future biosimilars activities will be driven out of this market. Boehringer Ingelheim continuously evaluates our business portfolio, and we assess potential strategic partnerships to help enhance our pipeline and development capabilities. As you know, we have stopped development activities for the rest of the world, and I am not able to comment on specifics regarding our biosimilar in- or out-licensing strategy.”

Boehringer Ingelheim had reported that it is seeking the interchangeability designation for its adalimumab biosimilar. In the possible scenario where Cyltezo won its patent challenge, and gained the interchangeability designation from the FDA (note that FDA only issued its final interchangeability guidelines draft this week), the marketing potential was rosy indeed. However, suppose the FDA approves the interchangeability label for Cyltezo. It cannot leverage it until after Amgen’s and Samsung Bioepis’ adalimumab biosimilars have launched. Will it have the same advantage? That’s difficult to say. Payers will be anxious to grab immediate savings on this product, and interchangeability may not be considered such a great benefit. That is, in four years, will payers routinely switch available biosimilar agents anyway? My guess is that health plans and insurers will be leaning in that direction.

On the other hand, it will be easier to automatically switch patients in nearly every state. That lever will only be used if Boehringer gives payers a real reason to use it—a significantly better deal than the existing options. AbbVie offered huge discounts (on the order of 80% in some countries) in an effort to hang on to some marketshare once biosimilars were available in the EU. After all, why worry about interchangeability and switching when you can continue to use Humira® at a 75% discount?

Ms. Holz told BR&R, “In regards to interchangeability, this is a very important issue for many stakeholders, as it is the catalyst for automatic substitution at the pharmacy level, which in turn may help drive efficient use of biosimilars and maximize the cost-saving potential of these important medicines.” She added, “We were very pleased to see the Agency finalized interchangeability guidance that retained the appropriate balance between a high-bar to prove interchangeability and product-specific flexibility to make such a status attainable.”

In the next four years, the price of Humira will undoubtedly rise. This will mean that savings gained in 2023 will be little more than money lost to the system over the previous 48 months. As significantly, it represents tens of billions of dollars into AbbVie’s bottom line from a product that was approved in the US 17 years ago.

An Update on Potential Biosimilars for Bevacizumab

Embroiled in patent litigation, the partnership of Amgen and Allergan have waited for the opportunity to launch Mvasi® since September 2017. During this time, the competition has not been stagnant, with Pfizer moving towards an FDA decision. The next 6 months may prove critical, but when will providers, patients, and payers have access to Avastin® biosimilars? That may be based more on guesstimates than on fact.

Avastin patent litigation

WHAT DO WE KNOW?

(1) Amgen and Allergan received its FDA approval for Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) September 17, 2017. The approval covered all of the reference product’s indications. The drug was approved for use by the European Medicines Agency in January 2018.

(2) In court documents filed during its patent battle with Genentech, Amgen had originally stated that it planned to begin marketing Mvasi once the last 8 patents it considered valid expired on December 18, 2018.

(3) Amgen then revised this potential launch date, according to the court filing, saying that it could launch several months earlier, on April 5, 2018.

(4) In either case, the launch has not occurred. According to the Purple Book, Avastin was first approved by the FDA February 26, 2004. That is approximately 15 years, and counting.

(5) The US District Court handling the litigation is expressing impatience with the back and forth between the two parties (read the Judge’s concluding remarks). A trial court date was set for June 2020.

(6) Pfizer completed its phase 3 trial for PF-06439535 in nonsquamous non–small cell lung cancer and filed for FDA approval in August 2018. An FDA decision is expected in the second quarter of this year.

(7) In November 2018, Boehringer Ingelheim completed its phase 3 trial in lung cancer for BI 695502.

(8) Samsung Bioepis completed its phase 3 trial in lung cancer in October 2018 (compared with EU-licensed Avastin).

(9) In addition, Centus Biotherapeutics is scheduled to complete its phase 3 trial in June 2019 as well.

WHAT WE DON’T REALLY KNOW

So much for what we know. Here are some things we know less well.

At a drug pipeline update at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy in October 2018, Express Scripts’ Aimee Tharaldson, PharmD, Senior Clinical Consultant—Emerging Therapeutics, offered a projected launch date of July 2019. In an E-mail communication with Biosimilars Review & Report, Dr. Tharaldson clarified that this estimate was based on the anticipated expiration of a key patent on Avastin that month.

Bevacizumab Biosimilars
Aimee Tharaldson, PharmD

When we contacted a senior Amgen executive, he stated that the company declined to discuss potential launch dates.

Goodwin’s Big Molecule Watch, which keeps a close eye on biosimilar-related patent litigation, does not list any ongoing suits between Genentech and Pfizer or Boehringer Ingelheim regarding Avastin (which may be surprising in itself).

We would anticipate that Pfizer will launch as soon as feasible, if they receive an FDA approval by June. Pfizer has an established record of moving their biosimilars quickly to market (e.g., Inflectra® [with Celltrion], Retacrit®, and Nivestym®).

Samsung Bioepis has not yet revealed their plans around an FDA filing for their investigational biosimilar of bevacizumab.

Boehringer had not yet filed a 351(k) application for approval of BI 695502. Comments by Molly Burich, Director, Public Policy: Biosimilars and Pipeline, in our interview last Fall, made it clear that the company is laser focused on bringing its adalimumab biosimilar (Cytelzo®) to market. In fact, this bevacizumab biosimilar was no longer posted on their pipeline at that time.

WHAT WE FOUND OUT

Today, Susan Holz, Director, Communications, Specialty Care, confirmed that the company decided that this agent was not in its strategic plans and it simply allowed the study to be completed. She said, “Boehringer Ingelheim made the decision to terminate all activities related to the BI 695502 program, a biosimilar candidate to Avastin. It is important to note that this decision was not based on any safety or efficacy findings with the investigational medicinal product BI 695502. Boehringer Ingelheim continuously evaluates our business portfolio and assesses potential strategic partnerships to help enhance our pipeline and development capabilities.”

Perhaps several of these unknowns will be resolved by the end of July, and the clouds will lift a bit. I suspect at that time, we’ll be much closer to biosimilar access for this biologic, which racked up $7 billion worldwide in sales in 2017.