June 2014 underscores a significant development for the generic drug exporters of India. Much-delayed and highly expected launch of generic Diovan (Valsartan) is now on its way, as Ranbaxy has reportedly received US-FDA approval to launch the first generic version of this blood pressure drug in the United States.
As deliberated in my earlier blog titled “Big Pharma’s Windfall Gain From Indian Pharma’s Loss, Costs American Patients Dear”, delay in launch of the generic equivalent of Diovan caused a windfall gain for Novartis from US$ 1.7 billion US sales of this drug last year, instead of usual declining turnover of an innovative molecule post patent expiry.
The generic version of Diovan (Valsartan) is estimated to contribute around US$ 200 million to Ranbaxy’s sales and US$ 100 million to its profit after tax, during the exclusive sale period. Against these numbers, delay in the launch of generic Diovan has reportedly cost payers and consumers in America around US$ 900 million in the first 18 months.
Since four Ranbaxy manufacturing facilities in India are now facing US-FDA ‘import bans’ due to violations of ‘Good Manufacturing Practices’ of the American regulator, its Ohm Laboratories unit located in New Jersey has been allowed to make generic Valsartan for the US.
Go for gold:
Hopefully, Ranbaxy would soon get similar approvals from the US drug regulator for its ‘first to launch’ generic versions of Nexium (AstraZeneca) and Valcyte (Roche), as well.
It is worth mentioning that around 90 percent price erosion would take place with intense competition, as soon the period of exclusivity for such ‘first to launch’ generics gets over.
Nonetheless, this is indeed a very interesting development, when the global generic pharmaceutical segment is reportedly showing signals of a tough chase for overtaking the branded pharmaceuticals sector in terms of sales turnover too.
India has a huge a stake in this ball game, as it supplies around 30 to 40 percent of the world’s generic medicines and is well poised to improve its pharma exports from around US$ 15 billion per year to US$ 25 billion by 2016. Since 2012, this objective has remained an integral part of the country’s global initiative to position India as the “pharmacy to the world.”
However, considering the recent hiccups of some Indian pharma majors in meeting with the quality requirements of the US-FDA, though this target appears to be a challenging one for now, the domestic pharma players should continue to make all out efforts to go for the gold by moving up the generic pharmaceutical value chain. In this context, it is worth noting that penetration of the generic drugs in the US is expected to increase from the current 83 percent to 86-87 percent very shortly, as the ‘Obamacare’ takes off with full steam.
Moving up the value chain:
In the largest pharma market of the world – the United States, global generic companies are increasingly facing cutthroat price competition with commensurate price erosion, registering mixed figures of growth. Even in a situation like this, some companies are being immensely benefited from moving up the value chain with differentiated generic product launches that offer relatively high margin, such as, specialty dermatologicals, complex injectibles, other products with differentiated drug delivery systems and above all biosimilars.
As a consequence of which, some Indian generic companies have already started focusing on the development of value added, difficult to manufacture and technology intensive generic product portfolios, in various therapy areas. Just to cite an example, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL) is now reportedly set to take its complex generic drug Fondaparinux sodium injection to Canada and two other emerging markets.
Thus, those Indian pharma companies, which would be able to develop a robust product portfolio of complex generics and other differentiated formulations for the global market, would be much better placed in positioning themselves significantly ahead of the rest, both in terms of top and the bottom lines.
One such key opportunity area is the development of a portfolio of biosimilar drugs – the large molecule proteins.
Global interest in biosimilars:
According to the June 2014 report of GlobalData, a leading global research and consulting firm, the biosimilars industry is already highly lucrative. More than 100 deals involving companies focused on the development of biosimilars have been completed over the past 7 years, with a total value in excess of US$10.7 billion.
GlobalData further states, there are a number of factors driving the initiative toward global adoption of biosimilars, from austerity measures and slow economic growth in the US, to an aging population and increasing demand for healthcare in countries, such as Japan.
The costs of biosimilars are expected to be, at least, 20 to 30 percent lower than the branded biologic therapies. This still remains a significant reduction, as many biologics command hundreds of thousands of dollars for 1 year’s treatment.
According to another media report, biosimilars are set to replace around 70 percent of global chemical drugs over the next couple of decades on account of ‘safety parameters and a huge portion of biologic products going off patent’.
Biosimilar would improve patient access:
Although at present over 150 different biologic medicines are available globally, just around 11 countries have access to low cost biosimilar drugs, India being one of them. Supporters of biosimilar medicines are indeed swelling as the time passes by.
It has been widely reported that the cost of treatment with innovative and patented biologic drugs can vary from US$ 100,000 to US$ 300,000 a year. A 2010 review on biosimilar drugs published by the Duke University highlights that biosimilar equivalents of novel biologics would improve access to such drugs significantly, for the patients across the globe.
Regulatory hurdles easing off:
In the developed world, European Union (EU) had taken a lead towards this direction by putting a robust system in place, way back in 2003. In the US, along with the recent healthcare reform process of the Obama administration, the US-FDA has already charted the regulatory pathway for biosimilar drugs, though more clarifications are still required.
Not so long ago, the EU had approved Sandoz’s (Novartis) Filgrastim (Neupogen brand of Amgen), which is prescribed for the treatment of Neutropenia. With Filgrastim, Sandoz will now have at least 3 biosimilar products in its portfolio.
Key global players:
At present, the key global players are Sandoz (Novartis), Teva, BioPartners, BioGenerix (Ratiopharm) and Bioceuticals (Stada). With the entry of pharmaceutical majors like, Pfizer, Sanofi, Merck, Boehringer Ingelheim and Eli Lilly, the global biosimilar market is expected to be heated up and grow at a much faster pace than ever before. Removal of regulatory hurdles for the marketing approval of such drugs in the US would be the key growth driver.
Globally, the scenario for biosimilar drugs started warming up when Merck announced that the company expects to have at least 5 biosimilars in the late stage development by 2012.
Most recent global development:
A key global development in the biosimilar space has taken place, just this month, in June 2014, when Eli Lilly has reportedly won the recommendation of European Medicines Agency’s Committee for Medicinal Products for launch of a biosimilar version (Abasria insulin) of Sanofi’s Lantus insulin. This launch would pave the way for the first biosimilar version of Sanofi’s top-selling drug clocking a turnover of US$7.8 billion in 2013. Eli Lilly developed Abasria with Boehringer Ingelheim of Germany.
In May 2014, Lantus would lose patent protection in Europe. However, biosimilar competition of Lantus in the US could get delayed despite its patent expiry in February, as Sanofi reportedly announced its intention of suing Eli Lilly on this score.
Global Market Potential:
According to a 2011 study, conducted by Global Industry Analysts Inc., worldwide market for biosimilar drugs is estimated to reach US$ 4.8 billion by the year 2015, the key growth drivers being as follows:
- Patent expiries of blockbuster biologic drugs
- Cost containment measures of various governments
- Aging population
- Supporting legislation in increasing number of countries
- Recent establishment of regulatory pathways for biosimilars in the US
IMS Health indicates that the US will be the cornerstone of the global biosimilars market, powering a sector worth between US$ 11 billion and US$ 25 billion in 2020, representing a 4 percent and 10 percent share, respectively, of the total biologics market.
The overall penetration of biosimilars within the off-patent biological market is estimated to reach up to 50 percent by 2020.
Challenges for India:
Unlike commonly used ‘small molecule’ chemical drugs, ‘large molecule’ biologics are developed from living cells using very complex processes. It is virtually impossible to replicate these protein substances, unlike the ‘small molecule’ drugs. One can at best develop a biologically similar molecule with the application of high degree of biotechnological expertise.
According to IMS Health, the following would be the key areas of challenge:
High development costs:
Developing a biosimilar is not a simple process but one that requires significant investment, technical capability and clinical trial expertise. Average cost estimates range from US$ 20-100 million against much lesser cost of developing traditional generics, which are typically around US$ 1-4 million.
Fledgling regulatory framework:
In most markets apart from Europe, but including the United States, the regulatory framework for biosimilars is generally still very new compared to the well-established approval process for NCEs and small-molecule generics.
Intricate manufacturing issues:
The development of biosimilars involves sophisticated technologies and processes, raising the risk of the investment.
Overcoming ‘Branded Mentality’:
Winning the trust of stakeholders would call for honed skills, adequate resources and overcoming the branded mentality, which is especially high for biologics. Thus, initiatives to allay safety concerns among physicians and patients will be particularly important, supported by sales teams with deeper medical and technical knowledge. This will mean significant investment in sales and marketing too.
Indian business potential:
The biosimilar drugs market in India is expected to reach US$ 2 billion in 2014 (Source: Evalueserve, April 2010).
Recombinant vaccines, erythropoietin, recombinant insulin, monoclonal antibody, interferon alpha, granulocyte cell stimulating factor like products are now being manufactured by a number of domestic biotech companies, such as, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Lupin, Biocon, Panacea Biotech, Wockhardt, Glenmark, Emcure, Bharat Biotech, Serum Institute, Hetero, Intas and Reliance Life Sciences.
The ultimate objective of all these Indian companies is to get regulatory approval of their respective biosimilar products in the US and the EU either on their own or through collaborative initiatives.
Domestic players on the go:
Dr.Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL) in India has already developed Biosimilar version of Rituxan (Rituximab) of Roche used in the treatment of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. DRL has also developed Filgastrim of Amgen, which enhances production of white blood cell by the body and markets the product as Grafeel in India. DRL has launched the first generic Darbepoetin Alfa in the world for treating nephrology and oncology indications and Peg-grafeel, an affordable form of Pegfilgrastim, which is used to stimulate the bone marrow to fight infection in patients undergoing chemotherapy. The company reportedly sold 1.4 million units of its four biosimilars, which have treated almost 97,000 patients across 12 countries. Besides, in June 2012, DRL and Merck Serono, of Germany, announced a partnership deal to co-develop a portfolio of biosimilar compounds in oncology, primarily focused on monoclonal antibodies (MAbs). The partnership covers co-development, manufacturing and commercialization of the compounds around the globe, with some specific country exceptions.
Another Indian pharmaceutical major Cipla, has reportedly invested Rs 300 Crore in 2010 to acquire stakes of MabPharm in India and BioMab in China and announced in June 19, 2014 collaboration with Hetero Drugs to launch a biosimilar drug with Actroise brand name for the treatment of anemia caused due to chronic kidney disease. Actorise is a biosimilar of ‘Darbepoetin alfa’, which is marketed by US-based Amgen under the brand Aranesp.
In 2011, Lupin reportedly signed a deal with a private specialty life science company NeuClone Pty Ltd of Sydney, Australia for their cell-line technology. Lupin reportedly would use this technology for developing biosimilar drugs in the field of oncology. Again, in April 2014, Lupin entered into a joint venture pact with Japanese company Yoshindo Inc. to form a new entity that will be responsible both for development of biosimilars and obtaining marketing access for products in the Japanese market.
In November 2013, The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) approved a biosimilar version of Roche’s Herceptin developed jointly by Biocon and Mylan.
In June 2014, Ipca Laboratories and Oncobiologics, Inc. of USA reportedly announced the creation of an alliance for the development, manufacture and commercialization of biosimilar monoclonal antibody products.
Many more such initiatives reportedly are in the offing.
Oncology becoming biosimilar development hot spot:
Many domestic Indian pharmaceutical companies are targeting Oncology disease area for developing biosimilar drugs, which is estimated to be the largest segment globally with a value turnover of around US$ 60 billion growing over 17 percent.
As per recent reports, about 8 million deaths take place all over the world per year due to cancer.
Indian Government support:
In India, the government seems to have recognized that research on biotechnology has a vast commercial potential for products in human health, including biosimilars, diagnostics and immune-biological, among many others.
To give a fillip to the Biotech Industry in India the National Biotechnology Board was set up by the Government under the Ministry of Science and Technology way back in 1982. The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) came into existence in 1986. The DBT currently spends around US$ 300 million annually to develop biotech resources in the country and has been reportedly making reasonably good progress.
The DBT together with the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) has now prepared and put in place ‘Regulatory Guidelines for Biosimilar Drugs’ in conformance with the international quality and patient safety standards. This is a big step forward for India in the arena of biosimilar drugs.
In June 2014, under the advanced technology scheme of Biotechnology Industry Partnership Program (BIPP), the DBT has reportedly invited fresh proposals from biotech companies for providing support on a cost sharing basis targeted at development of novel and high risk futuristic technologies mainly for viability gap funding and enhancing existing R&D capacities of start-ups and SMEs in key areas of national importance and public good.
However, the stakeholders expect much more from the government in this area, which the new Indian government would hopefully address with a sense of urgency.
According to IMS Health, biosimilar market could well be the fastest-growing biologics segment in the next few years, opening up oncology and autoimmune disease areas to this category of drugs for the first time ever. Moreover, a number of top-selling biologic brands would go off patent over the next five years, offering possibilities of reaping rich harvest for the biosimilars players of the country. Critical therapy areas such as cancer, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis are expected to spearhead the new wave of biosimilars.
While moving up the generic pharma value chain, Indian pharma players desiring to encash on the emerging global biosimilars opportunities would require to do a thorough analysis, well in advance, to understand properly the key success factors, core value propositions, financial upsides and risks attached to investments in this area.
Indian companies would also need to decide whether moving ahead in this space would be through collaborations and alliances or flying solo would be the right answer for them. Thereafter would come the critical market access strategy – one of the toughest mind games in the long-haul pharma marketing warfare.
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.