Sandoz (Novartis) – first to launch a ‘Biosimilar drug’ in the USA:
In mid 2006, US FDA approved its first ‘Biosimilar drug’; Omnitrope of Sandoz (Novartis) following a court directive in the U.S. Omnitrope is a copycat version of Pfizer’s human growth hormone, Genotropin. Interestingly, Sandoz (Novartis) had taken the U.S FDA to court as the regulatory approval of Omnitrope was kept pending by them, in absence of a defined regulatory pathway for ‘Biosimilar drugs’ in USA.
The CEO of Sandoz had then commented, “The FDA’s approval is a breakthrough in our goal of making high-quality and cost-effective follow-on biotechnology medicines like Omnitrope available for healthcare providers and patients worldwide.” Despite this event, no one at that time expected the U.S FDA to start commencing approval of other ‘Biosimilar drugs’ within the country.
‘Biosimilar drugs’ – emerging global interest:
Thereafter, many developments are fast taking place in the space of ‘Biosimilar drugs’, the world over. To fetch maximum benefits out of this emerging opportunity, India is also taking steps to tighten its regulatory reform process for ‘Biosimilar drugs’ to allay general fear and apprehensions regarding safety of such drugs, in absence of adequate clinical data for the specific protein substance.
Merck’s entry in ‘Biosimilar drugs’ business is through an acquisition:
In the west Merck announced its entry into the ‘Biosimilar drugs’ business on February 12, 2009, while announcing its acquisition of Insmed’s portfolio of ‘Biosimilar drugs’ for U.S$130 million in cash. Rich pipeline of follow-on biologics of Insmed is expected to help Merck to hasten its entry into global ‘Biosimilar drugs’ markets.
Current status of ‘Biosimilar drugs’ in the USA:
The new administration of President Barak Obama has expressed its strong intent to pave the way for regulatory guidelines for ‘Biosimilar drugs’ in the USA. To facilitate this process, the new draft legislation titled, “Promoting Innovation and Access to Life Saving Medicine Act” has already been introduced by the legislators of the country. This legislation, when will come into force would help define guidelines for approval of ‘Biosimilar drugs’ in the USA with just a five year exclusivity period to the innovative products, against a demand of 14 years by the global biotechnology industry.
Lucrative Global market potential for ‘Biosimilar drugs’:
It is estimated that only in the top two largest pharmaceutical markets of the world, USA and EU, sales of ‘Biosimilar drugs’ will record a turnover of U.S$ 16 billion in next two years and around U.S$ 60 billion by year 2010, when about 60 biotech products will go off-patent.
Opportunity for the Indian biotech companies:
Such a lucrative business opportunity in the west will obviously attract many Indian players, like, Biocon, Dr. Reddy’s Labs, Ranbaxy, Wockhardt etc, who have already acquired expertise in the development of ‘Biosimilar drugs’ in India like, erythropoietin, insulin, monoclonal antibodies, interferon-alfa. Domestic Indian biotech players are not only marketing these products in India but also exporting them to other non/less-regulated markets of the world.
Indian Companies are fast preparing to take a sizable share of the global pie of ‘Biosimilar drugs’ market:
Ranbaxy in collaboration with Zenotech Laboratories is engaged in global development of Granulocyte Colony-Stimulating Factor (GCSF) formulations. Wockhards is expected to enter into the Global ‘Biosimilar drugs’ market by 2010. Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories and Biocon are also preparing themselves for global development and marketing of insulin products, GCSF and streptokinase formulations.
Government of India funding for development of ‘Biosimilar drugs’ in India:
It has been reported that the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) of the Government of India has a proposal for funding of U.S$ 68 million through public private partnership (PPP) initiatives, where soft loans at the rate of interest of just 2% will be made available to the Indian biotech companies for development of ‘Biosimilar drugs’. Currently DBT spends around U.S$200 million annually towards biotechnology related initiatives.
Experience in conforming to stringent U.S FDA manufacturing standards, having largest number of U.S FDA approved plant outside USA; India has acquired a great advantage in manufacturing similar high technology products in India. Significant improvement in conformance to Good Clinical Practices (GCP) standards in India offers additional advantages.
Two available choices for the innovator companies:
With increasing global cost-containment pressures within the healthcare space, emergence of a lucrative global ‘Biosimilar drugs’ market with appropriate defined regulatory pathway in place is inevitable now.
Major global research based companies will now have two clear choices in the fast evolving situation. The first choice is the conventional one of competing with the ‘Biosimilar drugs’ in all important markets of the world. However, the second choice of jumping into the fray of ‘Biosimilar drugs’ business keeping focus on R&D undiluted, appears to be more prudent to me and perhaps will also make a better business sense. Only future will tell us, which of these two business senses will prevail, in the long run for the global biotech companies.
By Tapan 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.