Amgen/Allergan Partners Announce Launches of Herceptin and Avastin Biosimilars

The partnership of Amgen and Allergan made a huge splash in the biosimilar market by announcing the simultaneous US launches of the first two biosimilars of anticancer monoclonal antibodies. The agents Kanjinta® (trastuzumab-anns) and Mvasi® (bevacizumab-awwb) were officially made available July 18.

The move occurred almost simultaneously with a court denial of Genentech’s request for a restraining order against Amgen. For Amgen, this marks the first two biosimilars to reach commercialization.

The launch discounts associated with these two agents is only 15% off of average wholesale price (AWP), but the manufacturers point out that is still significantly below the average selling price (ASP) of the two reference drugs—13% lower than that for Herceptin® and 12% lower than that for Avastin®. This pricing does not include potential rebates or discounts that could further reduce the net costs of these biosimilars.

The launch timing raises the question of when the FDA-approved biosimilar competition will be launched. Other biosimilars in the trastuzumab space have signed licensing agreements with Genentech, the maker of Herceptin. Their launch dates have not been disclosed. Several biosimilar makers have also signed licensing agreements with Genentech on their versions of Avastin, and their launch dates may be upcoming as well.

Assuming the licensing agreements compel the other manufacturers to pay some percentage of sales or profits to Genentech, this could give Amgen/Allergan an automatic edge in profitability. It is unknown whether the launch timing of Mvasi and Kanjinti, have any implications for the existing licensing agreements. For example, it may be possible that an early launch by an unlicensed competitor could negate specific clauses of these contracts.

The bevacizumab biosimilar class progress had stagnated through court proceedings and licensing agreements. In a post from January 2019, we had noted that Amgen had notified the court that it was prepared to launch as early as April 2018.

On the trastuzumab side, Amgen/Allergan’s product was the most recently approved biosimilar (in June 2019).

In their joint press release, they quoted Paula Schneider, CEO of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. “The introduction of biosimilars is an important step in increasing options for treating HER2-positive breast cancers, which account for about 25% of all breast cancers,” she said. “As patient advocates, we are working to ensure that patients are educated about biosimilars and understand that these FDA-approved treatments are just as effective as the original biologic drugs.”

Samsung Bioepis Signals a Settlement With Genentech on Herceptin Biosimilar

And then there was one. Samsung Bioepis and Genentech filed a motion in District Court to drop all pending patent litigation regarding Ontruzant®, an approved Herceptin® biosimilar. A Joint Stipulation of Dismissal is usually the confirmation that a licensing agreement has been reached.

This leaves one remaining approved trastuzumab biosimilar maker that has not settled with Genentech (a subsidiary of Roche). Amgen’s product Kanjinti®, which was the last trastuzumab biosimilar approved (in June), is the last of 5 approved agents that is not yet subject to a Genentech agreement. The other manufacturers, Mylan/Biocon, Teva/Celltrion, Pfizer, and now Samsung Bioepis, will likely pay a royalty to Genentech whenever their products are launched.

Launch dates have not been announced (nor have the terms of these agreements) for any Herceptin biosimilar. However, the principal patent for Herceptin® has expired, so biosimilar competition should be available before the end of the year.

In other biosimilar news…Coherus Biosciences announced that it has manufactured its 400,000th dose of its pegfilgrastim biosimilar Udenyca®. Additionally, its unaudited second quarter earnings seem to indicate positive movement, as much as $84 million (more than doubling first-quarter earnings of $37 million).

Don’t Expect All-Out Biosimilar Competition for Herceptin—Just Yet

Five trastuzumab biosimilars have been approved for marketing in the US, and the composition-of-matter patent for the reference product, Herceptin®, expires June 30, 2019. That doesn’t mean we’ll see a jail break of competition, like that seen in the EU last October with adalimumab’s patent expiration. Yet there has been heavy interest in capturing a slice of Herceptin’s $2.9 billion US sales (in 2018).

Three manufacturers have signed licensing agreements with Genentech (subsidiary of Roche). In March 2017, Mylan signed the first agreement for its product Ogivri®. Its marketing partner is Biocon. In December 2018, Pfizer followed suit for its recently approved agent Trazimera®. None of the parties have indicated when a biosimilar agent will be launched. At the end of December, Celltrion and Teva came to a similar agreement on its Herzuma® biosimilar.

Herceptin patent litigation

According to Goodwin’s Big Molecule Watch, Roche’s infringement claims against Samsung Bioepis (Ontrusant®) and Amgen/Allergan (Kanjinti®) are still being litigated. For Genentech v. Samsung, the bench trial is slated to begin December 9, 2019. In addition, Samsung Bioepis is appealing the Patent Trial and Appeals Board ruling regarding the validity of Herceptin’s method of use patents. Separately, Genentech is challenging the PTAB’s decision that two other Herceptin patents were invalid. There’s a whole lot here that needs to be resolved (or settled).

In the case of Amgen and Allergan, Genentech originally brought suit claiming 38 patents were infringed (in June 2018). In July 2018, Genentech reduced this figure to less than half (17). A month later, Amgen responded to the suit. Little information is available on timing of next steps.

Based on this information, it is difficult to know just when the first trastuzumab biosimilars will be launched. If Genentech followed Abbvie’s example in its 2023 sequencing of adalimumab biosimilars, one might expect Mylan’s product to be available first, perhaps as early as this summer, with Pfizer’s and Celltrion to follow perhaps six months later.

Yet, unlike the Abbvie agreements, none of the Genentech licensing settlements were made public (other than the actual dates of the agreement). Keep in mind, Herceptin was first approved by the FDA in October 1998. In 2018, the drug’s sales in the US and EU combined was over $4.7 billion. Is 21 years of market exclusivity to anyone’s benefit, other than the manufacturer? Since 2006, US drug sales of Herceptin have been greater than $1 billion annually. If the biosimilar launches do not occur shortly, this may be a good test case of the Federal Trade Commission’s commitment to clearing patents in the name of competition.

Apotex/Apobiologix: Success in Canada, but Are They Shelving Biosimilars in the US?

Apotex has recently made news in Canada, introducing biosimilars and obtaining marketshare there. However, the story of Apotex and its Apobiologix biosimilar subsidiary in the US is less positive.

Apobiologix

As we’ve listed in our updated table, Apotex had originally filed for approval for its pegfilgrastim biosimilar with the FDA in late 2014 and its filgrastim biosimilar in early 2015. In 2019, no announcement has been made with regard to the filing status of either biosimilar.

In April 2018, we spoke with Apobiologix executives, who told us that the company “were still in discussions with the FDA” about the path forward for its G-CSF biosimilars. Unfortunately, this statement has not changed at all on its website. If there were discussions, they didn’t go far. And so the mystery continues.

There is some support for the view that the parent company is seeking to shed the Apobiologix subsidiary, and has been actively seeking a buyer for some time. This would make sense to a degree, as any of its newly approved biosimilars would be facing a difficult crawl to US marketshare, being the third or fourth filgrastim or pegfilgrastim biosimilar to launch.  Realizing that its marketshare potential would be substantially limited, why spend the additional developmental dollars?

In April 2018, Canada had granted the company approval to market its pegfilgrastim biosimilar (Lapelga™), and in Canada’s provincial systems, it has become a dominant player. Filgrastim was approved in Canada in 2016 (and in the EU in 2014).

According to its website, Apobiologix had been developing the following products for the US market:

  • Epoetin alfa (reference drug, Epogen®), in Phase 3
  • Darbepoetin alfa (Aranesp®), in preclinical study
  • Bevacizumab (Avastin®), in Phase 1
  • Rituximab (Rituxan®), in Phase 1
  • Trastuzumab (Herceptin®), in preclinical study

Although the pipeline lists the epoetin, bevacizumab, and rituximab biosimilars in clinical trials, no mention of any of these specific investigations can be found on www.clinicaltrials.gov, under Apotex or Apobiologix as a sponsor. A request for comment from Apobiologix was not answered by the time of this publication.

If this is the case, it is less the FDA than the parent drug maker who has lost faith in their biosimilars’ potential in the US. We can ill afford fewer active players in this market.

Senate Bill on Patents Could Turn the Purple Book Into Something More Useful

The Biologic Patent Transparency Act (BPTA), a Senate bill introduced by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) in March, is an independent, bipartisan attempt to address patent thickets. It does so largely by clarifying an individual biologic product’s patent situation. In achieving this, it can also create a real reason for the existence of the Purple Book.

Biologic Patent Transparency Act

Today, the Purple Book is nothing more than a listing of biologic agents, their original FDA filing dates, and whether there are any biosimilars of the originator biologic. It provides very few dates when a biologic’s exclusivity period ends. One day, it may list whether a biosimilar is interchangeable with a reference drug, but there are no designated interchangeable biosimilars today (and that seems to be the case in the near future, at least).

Under the Senate BPTA proposal, the originator manufacturer must disclose all relevant patents to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. It states that “…a ‘patent required to be disclosed’ is any patent for which the holder of a biological product license approved under subsection [351](a) or (k), or a biological product application approved under section 505 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and deemed to be a license for a biological product under this section on March 23, 2020, believes a claim of patent infringement could reasonably be asserted by the holder, or by a patent owner that has granted an exclusive license to the holder with respect to the biological product that is the subject of such license…” We assume that the patent lists will be provided via the Purple Book, which is supposed to be a reference for prospective biosimilar manufacturers.

The BPTA strives to make the patents held by a manufacturer as transparent as possible. It would require drug makers to list exclusivity periods or any exclusivity extensions received, information related to interchangeability or biosimilarity of a product, approved indications, and mandates updates every 30 days. Of course, this language does not prohibit, restrict, or redress any existing patents. Any changes in the patent law is not the addressed in this proposal.

The seven bill cosponsors (as of May 2, 2019) include a group as diverse as Tim Kaine (D-VA) to Rand Paul (R-KY).

In other biosimilar news…Sandoz announced a partnership with Taiwan-based EirGenix to commercialize the latter’s investigational trastuzumab biosimilar. This agent is currently in phase III trials. Under terms of the agreement, Sandoz will market the agent globally, except for China and Taiwan.

Pfizer Receives Approval for Trazimera, the Fourth Trastuzumab Biosimilar

A fourth trastuzumab biosimilar has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Pfizer’s biosimilar version of trastuzumab-qyyp (Trazimera) gained approval on March 11.

The principal phase 3 study tested Trazimera against the EU-licensed version of Herceptin®. The REFLECTIONS B327-02 study found no relevant differences in the clinical and safety outcomes for patients with HER2positive metastatic breast cancer, who also received paclitaxel. A second study tested Trazimera versus EU-licensed Herceptin in combination with docetaxel and carboplatin as neoadjuvant therapy, again demonstrating similar outcomes. The FDA’s approval covers both indications approved for Herceptin (treatment of HER2-overexpressing breast cancer and metastatic gastric/ gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma).

Pfizer first filed for approval of its trastuzumab biosimilar in the third quarter of 2017, and received a rejection from FDA in April 2018. Resubmission in June 2018, with additional information requested by the FDA, resulted in the current approval. The product was approved by the European Medicines Agency last year.

As with the other approved biosimilar versions of trastuzumab (Herzuma, Ogivri, and Ontruzant) in the United States, Trazimera is not yet available for prescription. Pfizer signed a licensing agreement with Herceptin’s maker Roche in December 2018, but a launch date is not yet available.

In other biosimilar news…Biocon’s biosimilar manufacturing plant has received a second citation from the FDA. The new Form 483 specified two issues, one involving sanitizing a type of barrier system and problems in tracking rejected vials.

A Profile on Lesser-Known Player in the Biosimilar Space: Nichi-Iko Pharmaceutical Company

On occasion, we profile some biosimilar manufacturers about whom our readers may not be familiar. This generally refers to companies that have products that are in earlier-stage research or those who simply have not been in the news as often as their colleagues. In this post, we highlight a Japanese company, Nichi-Iko Pharmaceutical Company, Ltd.

First established in 1965, Nichi-Iko Pharmaceutical Company has been operating under its current name since 2005. It is based in Tokyo and Toyama, Japan. Historically, Nichi-Iko has produced generic pharmaceutical products for the Japanese and Asian markets. It has grown over the years through mergers and acquisitions, including the purchase of Schaumberg, Illinois–headquartered Sagent Pharmaceuticals in 2016. Sagent produces a host of generic drugs for the US market. Nichi-Iko also has a strategic alliance agreement in place with Eisai Co, Ltd.

Why you may be hearing more about this company: Nichi-Iko’s mission statement is “…to provide value-added, high-quality generic products…” but it has also ventured into the biosimilar marketplace. The company received an approval in Japan for its infliximab biosimilar (NI-071). A phase 3 trial of this product is currently being completed (completion date slated for February 2019) in US patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and the company hopes to file a 351(k) application for approval with the Food and Drug Administration later this year. Additionally, Nichi-Iko has filed for Japanese approval for its etanercept biosimilar, and is involved in a phase 1 trial for a trastuzumab biosimilar targeted for the US and EU marketplace. As the agreement with Eisai seems to apply to marketing generics only, Nichi-Iko’s subsidiary Sagent Pharmaceuticals seems to be a logical choice for biosimilar commercialization in the US.

Samsung Bioepis Scores FDA Approval of Ontruzant, the Third Biosimilar Trastuzumab

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on January 18, 2019 the approval of a new biosimilar version of trastuzumab. Produced by Samsung Bioepis, this agent was dubbed Ontruzant (trastuzumab-dttb).

This is the third trastuzumab biosimilar approved by the FDA, following those by Mylan and Biocon in December 2017 (Ogivri®) and Teva and Celltrion last month (Herzuma®). As with biosimilars other than Herzuma and the reference biologic Herceptin®, this agent is approved for use in the treatment of HER2-overexpressing breast cancer and the treatment of HER2-overexpressing metastatic gastric or gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma. Herzuma is not approved for the latter indication.

As with Renflexis®, Samsung Bioepis’ first FDA-approved biosimilar, Merck will market the product in the US when launched. No launch date has yet been revealed.

Mylan and Biocon had signed a licensing agreement with Roche, the manufacturer of Herceptin, which ended their patent fight, but which delayed launch. Teva and Celltrion have not yet disclosed whether a similar deal has been reached with Roche. Pfizer has an investigational trastuzumab biosimilar, and they too have signed a licensing agreement with Roche.

Will the Government Shutdown Slow Biosimilar Approvals?

The partial federal government shutdown is having specific effects in various important areas of government, but it may not be particularly troubling for FDA user-fee funded activities.

Scott Gottlieb, MD, Commissioner of the FDA, has been especially busy on Twitter, trying to inform the public how the government shut down is affecting FDA operations. He made it clear that the agency is prioritizing its efforts on ensuring consumer safety.

During an extended tweet storm (the past 7 days), he has not directly addressed the effect of the shutdown on current drug approvals. However, since the pharmaceutical companies have paid into the drug approval activities of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Review, there may be sufficient funds and resources for ongoing approval activities. In a tweet last week, Dr. Gottlieb mentioned that FDA was bringing onto staff several new user-fee funded staffers. Yet, in a January 7 tweet, he promised additional information on how the shutdown would affect biosimilars; this has not yet been addressed.

In terms of biosimilars, two trastuzumab drug makers are expecting FDA decisions this quarter (Pfizer and Samsung Bioepis). However, Pfizer’s biosimilar launch is subject to a licensing agreement with Genentech (Roche), the maker of the reference product Herceptin®. Therefore, if there was a short delay in FDA approval, it will not likely have a material effect on availability for prescription. We anticipate that Pfizer will also be hearing from the FDA on its rituximab biosimilar in the second quarter.

This could raise a secondary problem with the shutdown: Will the current furlough cause a chain reaction of delays in the evaluation of existing biologic licensing applications? How long might it take the full FDA staff to catch up, if that is the case?

In a January 13 tweet, Dr. Gottlieb said, “The lapse in funding represents one of the most significant operational challenges in FDA’s recent history. But as an agency, we’re committed to fulfilling our consumer protection mandate, to the best of our abilities, under our current configuration.”

In other biosimilar news… A January 10 story in The Pink Sheet reported that Leah Christl, PhD, Associate Director of Therapeutic Biologics at FDA intends to depart the agency in the near future (a specific date was not given).

FDA Approves Celltrion and Teva’s Herceptin® Biosimilar

On December 14, the US Food and Drug Administration gave its approval for a new trastuzumab biosimilar (Herzuma™). Manufactured by Celltrion and marketed in the US by Teva, this agent has been designated trastuzumab-pkrb.

The decision marks the second trastuzumab biosimilar approval, and the 16th biosimilar agentthat has made it through the 351(k) regulatory pathway.

Herzuma was approved for a single indication: the treatment of HER2-overexpressing breast cancer. Unlike the other trastuzumab biosimilar, Ogivri®, and Herceptin, Herzuma does not carry the extrapolated indication for the treatment of HER2-overexpressing metastatic gastric or gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma.

Originally submitted for approval by Celltrion in July 2017, the FDA issued a complete response letter because of plant manufacturing issues. A year later, after addressing these problems, Celltrion refiled its 351(k) application (June 2018).

Celltrion has launched Herzuma in Europe and elsewhere with marketing partners other than Teva. Neither Celltrion or Teva have announced at this time when the US launch may occur or how it will be priced. Partners Mylan and Biocon, makers of Ogivri, and Pfizer, the manufacturer of a potential competitor, have signed licensing agreements with Roche, makers of the reference product to delay launch.