A Great News! But…Would This ‘Golden Goose’ Lay Golden Eggs?

On December 9, 2014, international media flashed across the world a great news item from the Indian pharma industry:

“The first biosimilar of the world’s top-selling medicine Humira (adalimumab) of AbbVie has been launched in India by Zydus Cadila.”

This exhilarating news has undoubtedly got frozen in time flagging a well-cherished moment of pride for the Indian pharmaceutical industry. Along side, taking note of many contemporary factors in this area, a lurking apprehension too does creep in. It raises an awkward and uncomfortable question – would this ‘Golden Goose” born out of a laudable ‘reverse engineering’ effort be able to lay ‘Golden Eggs’, signaling its global commercial success for the company?

In this article, I shall try to dwell on on this important issue.

In one my earlier blog posts of August 25, 2014 titled, “Scandalizing Biosimilar Drugs With Safety Concerns”, I discussed another related concern in this area.

Born a ‘Golden Goose’:

Just to recapitulate, the original product Humira (Adalimumab) of Abbvie, a fully human anti-TNF alpha monoclonal antibody was first globally approved for marketing in 2002. Since then Humira has emerged as the most preferred therapy to reduce the signs and symptoms of patients suffering from moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis, moderate to severe polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, moderate to severe Crohn’s disease and moderate to severe ulcerative colitis. However, Humira is not available in the Indian market, at present.

Zydus Cadila has announced that its biosimilar version of Humira (Adalimumab), has been approved by the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) and will be marketed under the brand name ‘Exemptia’ for the treatment of autoimmune disorders as indicated for Humira.

As claimed by the company, ‘Exemptia’ is a ‘fingerprint match’ with the original drug Humira in terms of purity, safety and potency. Zydus Cadila has also stated that the novel non-infringing process for Adalimumab and a novel non-infringing formulation have been researched, developed and produced by scientists in its own Research Centre.

With this the world took note of the ‘Golden Goose’, born out of brilliant ‘Reverse Engineering’ in India. However, the apprehension of many continued to linger: Would this ‘Golden Goose’ be able to lay ‘Golden Eggs’?

The product and the price:

According to an estimate, over 12 million patients in India suffer from the above chronic conditions of autoimmune disorders, which progressively deteriorate and lead to lifelong pain and in some cases, even disability. To treat these indications, Exemptia is recommended as a 40 mg subcutaneous injection once every alternate week. Patients normally would have to take the treatment for six months.

Media reports indicate that ‘Exemptia’ of Zydus Cadila will be priced in India equivalent to US$ 200 a vial against Humira price in the United States of US$ 1,000. Initial overall reaction for this local price does not seem to be quite favorable for India.

The global market:

A recent report from Thomson Reuters indicates, as blockbuster drugs with sales turnover of around US$100 billion lose patent protection, the global biosimilars market is expected to grow around US$ 25 billion by the end of the decade.

According to a 2013 report of the credit rating agency Fitch, eight of the current 20 top-selling global pharmaceuticals are biologics that will face patent expiry by 2020.

EvaluatePharma reported that the current the anti-rheumatics market makes up the second largest treatment area by sales, with worldwide revenues of US$ 41.1 billion, closely behind the oncology therapy area, which registered sales of US$68 billion in 2012 with a high growth rate.

The report also states, despite biosimilar entry Anti-rheumatics segment is expected to record a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 4 percent with a turnover of around S$52.1 billion in 2018.

The local potential:

Over the last several years, China and India have been emerging as the promising destinations for international outsourcing of biopharmaceutical manufacturing. In the recent times, China and India are reportedly showing promises to become the industry’s top potential destinations for offshoring over the next five years, ahead of traditional bio manufacturing hubs in the US and Western Europe.

More than 40 biosimilar products are now available in the Indian market. Over 10 pharma players are competing in this area with around 15 epoetin, 8 G-CSF and 4 insulin “biosimilars”, besides a few others.

Although India has the second largest USFDA approved drug manufacturing plants next to the United States, none of the products manufactured in these facilities can possibly be considered as “true biosimilars”.

Humira expected to remain strong:

EvaluatePharma also forecasts that Humira of AbbVie would continue to remain the best selling drug of the world at least till 2018 with sales of US$12.8 billion, despite its US patent expiry in 2016.

Moreover, to succeed Humira that will go off patent between end 2016 and 2018 (Europe), AbbVie reportedly has seven new drugs in clinical development for Rheumatoid Arthritis. These patented new drugs could also significantly cannibalize the sales of Humira.

Physicians’ attitude towards biosimilars:

According to an October 2014 Report of IMS Institute from Europe’s perspective, within each country’s health system, physicians display a range of attitudes and behaviors that influence their prescribing of biosimilars.

IMS observed three broad segments of prescribers as follows:

  • Conservative prescribers: These doctors tend to be late adopters of new technologies, are more likely to follow published clinical treatment guidelines, and may not be aware of or educated on the availability of potential use of biosimilars.
  • Open-minded prescribers: This archetype includes physicians who tend to be the most responsive to new information about treatment options, particularly where experience and knowledge of biologics may be low and educational program can be effective in impacting usage.
  • Enterprising prescribers: This segment of prescribers is most likely to search out information from all sources, and be open to trying different options for patient care including biosimilars as well as innovative treatments.

In addition to these archetypes, the report states, physicians’ attitudes and prescribing behavior may also be influenced or determined by prescribing guidelines, if any, the use of prescribing incentives, as well as the use of promotional activities by either originator or biosimilar manufacturers.

The US biosimilar challenge:

According to reports, despite two pharma players filing biosimilar applications at the USFDA, there are still many issues to be sorted out in this space by the drug regulator of the country.

Though an interchangeable biosimilar in the United States still appears to be several years away, there are initiatives in some American states to restrict interchangeable biosimilar for substitution against the reference product.

Moreover, USFDA’s draft guidance on clinical pharmacology of May 2014 has invited strong adverse comments from the innovator companies, lobby groups and the industry associations.

However, just in the last week, both the innovator companies and biosimilar manufacturers have reportedly agreed to support state legislation that allows pharmacies to automatically substitute biosimilars for corresponding branded biologics. But pharmacies must give prescribers a heads up afterward “within a reasonable time.”

For biosimilars makers, it’s a big improvement on the alternative, as the biotech developers wanted to require pharmacists to check with doctors before making the switch.

That said, the USFDA is yet to determine exactly how to classify biosimilars and their “reference products” as interchangeable. This guidance for classification would be necessary for the above mentioned pharmacy switches. This guidance is important especially for the statutory language, which dictates that interchangeability is proven for “any given patient”. This could also be construed as requiring studies in all the approved indications for a brand name biologic, i.e. Humira has around five different indications.

Thus, the path ahead still remains challenging for the biosimilar players in the United States, and more so for the Indian Companies, as compared to other global pharma majors with deep pockets.

Several other Humira biosimilars under development too:

As indicated earlier, the US and Europe patents of Humira with worldwide sales of US$ 11.02 billion in 2013 would expire by end 2016 and 2018, respectively. Thus, the product has become among the most sought-after biosimilar target prototypes for many pharma and biotech companies across the world.

The global biotech major Amgen has already indicated that its ABP 501 biosimilar has shown comparable efficacy and safety to Humira (adalimumab) in a late-stage trial in patients with moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis after treatment duration of 16 weeks. The product, reportedly, has also matched Humira in stimulating immune response in patients.

Experts believe, Amgen could be in a position to compete directly with Humira when it loses patent protection, if similar results are obtained in the second phase III trial.

Moreover, according to available reports, Boehringer Ingelheim, Sandoz (Novartis) and Coherus are also progressing well with the development of Humira biosimilars.

Zydus Cadila expects that in 2019 it would be ready to launch the biosimilar of Humira (Adalimumab) in the United States.

Marketing challenges for biosimilars:

Today, the global biosimilars market is indeed in a nascent stage, even for the Indian players.

For successful commercialization of biosimilars, I envisage, a well-crafted hybrid marketing-model of small molecule generics on the one hand and large molecule biologics of the originators’ on the other would be appropriate, in the years ahead.

In the early marketing phase, biosimilar marketers are expected to follow the same branding, communication and detailing strategies of the originators, which ultimately would transform into a generic matrix as more players chip in with the price competition intensifying.

Unlike small molecule generics, affordable price of a biosimilar would be just one of the many critical considerations for its commercial success in the biologics market.

Sustained efforts and initiatives to allay safety concerns with biosimilars among both the doctors and also the patients would be a dire necessity. Providing in-depth medical, technical and domain knowledge to the sales team should never be compromised, though these would require additional initial investments. Post marketing surveillance or pharmacovigilance for biosimilars must be ongoing, even in India. Here too, Indian players do not seem to be very strong, as yet.

Thus, unlike small molecule generics, marketing a large molecule biosimilar would require clear, razor sharp and focused strategies across the value chain to unlock its true potential. Crafting impactful value propositions, avoiding complexities, for each stakeholder, would decide the commercial fate of the product.

‘Made in India’ issue for pharma needs to be addressed expeditiously:

High credibility clinical trial data and manufacturing quality standards would also play a decisive role, especially for India made biosimilars.

This is mainly due to widespread reports of frequent USFDA allegations related to falsification and doctoring of manufacturing data in several manufacturing plants of India.

Ethical and quality issues for drugs made in India, such as these, assumed even greater dimension, as the regulators in France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg reportedly suspended marketing approval for 25 drugs over the genuineness of clinical trial data from India’s GVK Biosciences. This is yet another blow to ‘Made in India’ image for medicines, which has arrested the global attention, for all the wrong reasons, just the last week. 

Conclusion:

Considering all the above points, let me now try to make a fair personal guess on whether or not the ‘Golden Goose’ would be successful enough to lay ‘Golden Eggs’, as required by the company.

Firstly, in the Indian perspective, the key point that strikes me is the cost of a treatment course with ‘Exemptia’ per patient in the country. On a rough calculation, it comes around Rs. 1,50,000 per course/per patient. This appears rather high according to the income level of an average Indian.

However, Zydus Cadila expects sales between Rs.1 billion (US$16.16 million) and 2 billion for ‘Exemptia’ only from the Indian market.

I reckon, with relatively high per course treatment cost with Exemptia, it may be quite challenging for the company to achieve this goal in the domestic market.

Thus, the global success of this biosimilar brand would mainly depend on its degree of success in the United States and Europe, post patent expiry of Humira.

Going by the possible availability of other Humira biosimilars from manufacturers with robust global marketing muscle, skill sets, experience and other wherewithal, the path of global success for Exemptia of Zydus Cadila, if the company decides to fly solo, appears to be strewn with many odds.

I would now stick my neck out to zero in with specificity in this area, while envisaging the possible future scenario.

Considering the evolving macro scenario together with the commercial success requirements in this space, I reckon, despite presence of several possible competitors of Humira biosimilars, including one from Zydus Cadila, the biotech domain expertise of Amgen, fuelled by its marketing muscle, would in all probability make its ABP 501 biosimilar the toughest competitor to Humira after its patent expiry in the US and Europe…and then…why doesn’t it try to succeed in India too?

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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