“Patent expiry matters much less for difficult to copy drugs”.
Not so long ago, this is what many used to believe in the pharma industry. However, looking at the current trend involving the tech savvy generic players, it appears, gone are those days even for the home grown companies in India. As we witness today, a number of global generic players, including some from India, are overcoming the tough challenge of technological barrier of the original drugs with technology, boldly and squarely, and that too with reasonably good speed.
A global CEO felt quite the same:
Possibly encouraged by this commercial dogma, the Chief Executive of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Sir Andrew Witty reportedly felt in not too distant past that his company’s blockbuster drug Advair/Seretide, used for the treatment of asthma, would continue to remain a major product, despite losing US patent in end 2010. Witty thought so considering the intricate technology involved in making its high tech inhalation drug delivery system with exacting precision.
Technology based entry barrier:
Although, Advair/Seretide is a respiratory inhalation drug, it is not quite like a typical aerosol inhaler consisting of a pressurized canister filled with liquid medicine formulation. In such system, as the canister is compressed, the liquid inside comes out as a spray that is breathable in an amount as required for desirable clinical efficacy for the patients.
With the application of complex technology, Advair/Seretide was formulated not as a liquid, but as pre-determined fixed dose combination of powders that patients inhale into their respiratory tracts with a device called ‘Diskus’, which involves a complex and difficult to copy inhaler technology with a long patent life.
This precision technology was expected to create the requisite entry barrier for generic equivalents of this important medicine.
“Diskus” patent to continue:
It is important to note, though Advair/Seretide had gone off patent in end 2010, the patent protection for the “Diskus” device that dispenses the powder version of the fixed dose drugs combination, continues till 2016. For the inhaler device that dispenses the aerosol version of the same drugs, the patent remains valid until 2025.
New USFDA guidance:
Keeping these factors in mind, the USFDA in its latest guidance has clearly enunciated the characteristics that an inhaler should have, including a similar size and shape to Diskus. This new USFDA guidance for inhaled drugs, like Advair/Seretide, now requires only “relatively basic” preclinical tests and a short clinical trial.
Many believe that this new guidance is mainly to ensure that other generic devices also qualify for the GSK’s asthma drug combo, after its patent expiry.
Nevertheless a challenging task:
Despite this new USFDA guidance for inhaled drugs, some large generic manufacturers apprehended, even way back in 2010, that they doubt whether it will be possible for them to adequately replicate Advair/Seretide to meet the stringent “substitution” requirements of the USFDA on generics. This is exactly what Witty had envisaged earlier.
Almost two years after its patent expiry, in October 2012, the world’s largest generic drug maker Teva also announced that the company does not expect to see true substitutes for Advair/Seretide before 2018.
No immediate sales impact post-patent expiry:
As a result, in 2012, even a couple of years after its patent expiry, Advair/Seretide could successfully weather the impending storm, though GSK reported a lackluster overall business performance. The brand at that time was virtually immune to substitution threats from generic equivalents. The key reason being, as stated above, much unlike a patented chemical drug substance, the ‘Diskus’ system of the GSK inhaler is a hell of a task to copy by meeting the regulatory requirements of substitution.
In 2013, close to three years after its patent expiry, Advair/Seretide ranked fourth within the top 10 global best-selling drugs of that year, clocking annual revenue of US $8.25 billion.
The first competition:
In the midst of all these, the first generic equivalent of Advair/Serevent with a new inhalation device, carrying a name AirFluSal Forspiro from the Sandoz unit of Novartis, started warming up to obtain regulatory approval from several countries within the European Union (EU).
The product was first approved in Denmark on December, 2013 with subsequent marketing authorizations received in Germany, Sweden, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Norway.
The heat started being felt now:
The overall position of the brand started changing thereafter. According to published reports, sales trend of Advair/Seretide in Europe and other markets are on the decline in 2014. In Europe, the drop was around 3 percent and in the US around 19 percent in the last quarter, due to a combined impact of many factors.
According to Bloomberg, the sales of Advair/Seretide are expected to drop from US$8.25 billion in 2013 to US$5.9 billion in 2016 with the entry of generics.
A large and growing market to invest into:
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in every 10 seconds, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) that includes conditions such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema kills one person globally. It is expected to be the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2030. However, though more number of people suffers from asthma globally, its mortality rate is still much less, WHO says.
Bloomberg estimates that COPD market, including asthma, is expected to reach over US$30 billion by 2018.
Cipla came next crossing the ‘technology hurdle’:
Though the leader in the global generic market – Teva, expressed its inability to introduce the generic version of Advair/Seretide before 2018, this month, the Indian pharma major Cipla introduced its version of the product in two European countries, just next to Novartis. Consequently, Cipla demonstrated its ability to overcome the technological hurdle of the product faster than most others and mastering the intricate NDDS technology in record time, with precision.
The Cipla product is named as ‘Serroflo’ in Germany and ‘Salmeterol/Fluticasone Cipla’ in Sweden. As reported in the media quoting Cipla Chairman Dr. Yusuf Hamied, the product has also been launched in Croatia. By now, Cipla has obtained regulatory approvals of this product in 10 countries in total, with an approval pending in the GSK’s own domestic turf, the United Kingdom (UK). Other country-wise launches in Europe would probably take place much before the end of 2014, according to Dr. Hamied.
The product is expected to be launched in the US in the next three to four year’s time, though one media report mentioned about its 2015 launch in that market. Dr. Hamied also said that his company is now planning its first-ever manufacturing plant in America, which might focus on producing HIV medicines.
On a conservative estimate, the market analysts expect Cipla to generate around US$50 million in sales from the EU markets by 2016 and around US$110 million by 2018, as the company gains increasing market access with not more than 4-5 generic competitors competing in this segment.
Be that as it may, getting regulatory approval for launch of a generic version of Advair/Seretide in the regulated markets, by itself, is a huge achievement of technological prowess that Cipla has demonstrated, yet again.
Not too many generic competition expected:
Because of high quality technological requirements to develop a replaceable generic version of the GSK product, not too much competition is expected in this segment.
Thus far, another global generic drug major Mylan is expected to file for a generic version of Advair/Seretide in the US by the third quarter of 2015 for a 2016 launch. Besides Cipla and Novartis, Mylan, Teva and Actavis are expected come out with the generic version of this drug.
Opportunities in ‘difficult to copy’ drugs:
According to a recent ‘RnR Market Research Report’, over 1,400 drugs with New Drug Delivery System (NDDS) have since been approved globally. This includes inhalation devices too.
The oral drugs contribute the largest share of the overall NDDS market with over 52 percent of the total pie. This segment is expected to attain a turnover of over US$90 billion by 2016 at a CAGR of 11 percent. The injectable new drug delivery market is expected to reach a turnover of over US $29billion by 2015, according to this report.
I have deliberated this subject in one of my earlier blog posts titled. “Moving Up The Generic Pharma Value Chain”.
Another high tech area – biosimilar drugs:
As the high priced biologic drugs of the innovator companies go off patent, large molecule biosimilar drugs, involving high technology, would emerge as another lucrative growth opportunity for the generic players having requisite wherewithal.
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. Some of the Indian companies that have already entered into the biosimilar segment are Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL), Lupin, Biocon, Panacea Biotech, Wockhardt, Glenmark, Emcure, Bharat Biotech, Serum Institute, Hetero, Intas and Reliance Life Sciences, besides others.
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.
Overall improvement in the quality of ANDA filings:
In the last few years, overall quality of ANDA filings of the domestic Indian pharma players has also improved significantly. Their regulatory filing schedules now include many complex molecules, injectibles, oral contraceptives, ophthalmic preparations, inhalers/other drug delivery systems and biosimilars, beside Para IV/FTFs. All these are now contributing a growing share in their new product initiatives for the regulated markets.
In the largest pharma market of the world – the United States, global generic companies are increasingly facing cutthroat price competition with steep price erosion, registering mixed figures of business performance and growth.
However, a new trend is fast emerging. Even when global innovator companies are including increasing number of difficult to copy medicines in their product portfolio, some pharma players are reaping a rich harvest by moving up the value chain with the generic versions of those products, post patent expiry. These copycats offer much higher margin than non-differentiated generics.
Some Indian generic companies too have started focusing on building value added, difficult to manufacture, and technology intensive generic product portfolios in various therapy areas. DRL is reportedly all set to take its complex generic drug Fondaparinux sodium injection to Canada and two other emerging markets.
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 now be much better placed in positioning themselves significantly ahead of the rest, both in terms of top and the bottom line performance.
The myth, as epitomized in the good old saying, “Patent expiry matters less for difficult to copy drugs”, seems to be partly true in delaying entry of generics immediately after the end of the monopoly period, at least, for now. However, I reckon, this gap of delay would eventually get much reduced, if not eliminated altogether, as we move on. Armed with cutting edge technology Cipla has almost busted the myth, as it came close second to Novartis with the launch of a complex generic equivalent of Advair/Seretide in the EU and other markets.
Pharma majors of the country, such as, DRL, Cipla, Lupin and Biocon, to name a few, are taking great strides, setting examples for many others to emulate and excel in this area. The groundswell has already begun for a long haul global journey of the Indian pharma into the El Dorado of high tech generics fetching higher rewards.
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.