Despite increasing numbers of alleged scams involving generic drugs, both in the United States and also in India, even involving many large generic drug manufacturers, the traditional generic drug market, keeps growing globally. Although, the current growth is in mid-single digit, the market can’t be ignored, either.
That apart, enormous pricing pressure, squeezing bottom line and cutthroat competition, are prompting many companies, including Big Pharma, to craft different strategies to excel in this market. One such involves a shift in business focus from relatively low priced traditional generic drugs to comparatively higher priced complex or specialty generic medicines with a few competitors.
In this emerging situation, a lurking apprehension does surface for many. If the margin is good and the prices of these complex or specialty generics, are much higher than traditional ones, won’t it prompt more ‘Authorized Generics’ coming into the market? Won’t that jeopardize the interest of other generic drug makers? In this article, I shall explore this area, along with its possible consequences. Before doing that, it will be worthwhile to give an overview of the generic market, before recapitulating what are ‘Authorized’ and ‘Complex’ generics.
How lucrative is the generic drugs market now?
According to the latest report by IMARC Group, the global generic drug market size reached US$ 340 Billion in 2018 and is expected to be at US$ 475 Billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of 5.3 percent during 2019-2024 period.
The key market growth drivers remain, increasing number of product patent expiration, higher prevalence of chronic diseases and different government initiatives to encourage faster generic launch, including the United States. The pace of increase is faster in the emerging markets, like India. However, unlike India, non-branded generic drugs, rather than branded generics, are dominating most the markets.
Although, Central Nervous System (CNS), cardiovascular, dermatology, oncology and respiratory are among the dominant segments in the market, CNS and Cardiovascular segments are the two largest ones in this market. North America holds the largest market share, with more than 88 percent of total prescriptions being written for generic drugs in the U.S., as the report highlights. Despite this scenario, to mitigate huge pricing pressure, cutthroat competition and low margin, many drug players are preparing to move into specialty or complex generics.
The size and growth of complex or specialty generics market:
The April 2019 report by Research and Markets- “Specialty Generics Market: Global Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2019-2024″ states, the global specialty generics market reached a value of US$ 44.8 Billion in 2018. By 2014, its value is expected to reach US$ 88.9 Billion with a much higher CAGR of 11.9 percent, in 2019-2024 period.
Which drugs would belong to this market?
According to the ‘White Paper’ titled, ‘Complex Generics: Maximizing FDA Approval Prospects’ of Parexel, the following are some examples of complex generics; the list continues to grow as more products are being added in this category every day:
- Complex Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs), examples being Enoxaparin, Low Molecular Weight Heparin, Glatiramoids, Iron Carbohydrate Complexes etc.
- Complex Formulations, examples being Liposomes, abuse-deterrent generics, parenteral microspheres.
- Complex Route of Delivery, such as topical ointments and locally acting GI drugs.
- Complex Drug-Device Combinations, such as DPI, MDI, nasal sprays, and transdermal systems.
These types of complex and high-cost generics, besides some off-patent biologic products and even Biosimilar drugs, are often used to treat complex and life-threatening diseases, such as, cancer, Hepatitis C, and many others. Complex generics are expected to eventually own a significant percentage of the total generic drugs market, as a number of big-ticket specialty drug molecules will go off patent in the ensuing years.
The major advantages of complex generics:
Some of the major advantages of the complex generics market over traditional generics are as follows:
- Complex manufacturing requirements with higher capital costs – thus, higher price, better margin, fewer players, lesser competition.
- Increasing prevalence of life-threatening diseases, besides, cost containment measures from the government and healthcare providers, are pushing the demand of these drugs.
Indian companies are also entering the fray:
As the share of specialty medicines in global spending in 2017 increased to 32 percent from 19 percent in 2007, Indian drug players also could sniff the opportunity in this space. Just as Sun Pharma, reportedly shifted its focus from once lucrative traditional generics medicines to specialty drugs, amid continued price erosion in its biggest market – the US, many others are also joining the fray. The Indian players who are, reportedly, investing in complex generics include, Aurobindo Pharma, Dr. Reddy’s Labs, Cipla, Lupin, Glenmark and Cadila.
More specifically, with the contribution of specialty medicines to overall pharmaceutical spend in the US, Germany, France, Italy, UK, and Spain – almost doubling over the last 10 years, this trend is likely to gather momentum, as the above report indicated. Accordingly, commensurate strategic actions aimed at this segment by many companies, both global and local, are clearly now visible.
Some strategic initiatives:
In preparation of a major shift in the strategic focus on complex generics, key examples of some of the important initiatives of different companies will include the following:
- Big generic players wanted to be bigger in the global market through M&A, such as Teva acquired Allergan’s generic business, Mylan bought Abbott Laboratories’ generics businessAbbott Laboratories’ non-U.S. developed markets specialty and branded generics business. Similarly, Endo International acquired Par Pharmaceuticals. In India the mega deal of Sun Pharma acquiring Ranbaxy in 2015. In the same year, Lupin acquired New Jersey-based generic drugs firm GAVIS to boost its presence in the US.
- Novartis sold its 300 ‘troubled’ U.S. generics to India’s Aurobindo for US$ 1B, as the entire generics industry faced unrelenting pricing pressure in the U.S.’ Whereas, Novartis’ wants to focus higher-margin assets like Biosimilars and complex generics.
- Pfizer is set to combine its off-patent drug unit Upjohn with Mylan, to create a new business with its own off-patent branded and generic drug lines. The merger will bring together Pfizer medications such as Lipitor and Viagra with Mylan’s EpiPen, used to halt life-threatening allergic reactions.
- Owing to margin pressure and other reasons, some of the Indian drug players also decided to enter into higher margin complex generics space, pursuing both organic and inorganic routes. There are several such examples, such as: In January 2017, Zydus Cadila announced acquisition of Sentynl Therapeutics Inc., a US based specialty pharma company specialized in marketing of products in the pain management segment. And in October 2017, Lupin acquired US-based Symbiomix Therapeutics LLC to expand Lupin’s US women’s health specialty business in the highly complementary gynecological infection sector.
Any flip side of complex generics business for the Indian players?
Although, driven by mainly higher profit margins and tough entry barriers, many generic players with the requisite wherewithal, find complex generics business more attractive to focus on, there’s a flip side to it, as well. This is, post patent expiry, innovator companies may be encouraged to introduce more ‘Authorized Generics’, creating a tough competitive environment for other generic players to compete with them. This brings us to the question of what are ‘Authorized Generics?’
According to the USFDA, the term ‘Authorized generic’ is used to describe an approved brand name drug that is marketed without any brand name on its label. It is exactly the same product as the branded one, and may also be marketed by another company with the innovator company’s permission. Generally, an ‘Authorized Generic’ is launched at a lower price than the brand name drug.
Moreover, ‘Authorized Generics’, despite being the generic version of patented molecule, are mostly marketed by the patent holders themselves, both pre and post patent expiry. While a separate NDA is not required for marketing an ‘Authorized Generic’, USFDA requires that the NDA holder notify the FDA, if it markets an ‘Authorized Generic. The NDA holder may market both the ‘Authorized Generic’ and the brand-name product at the same time. Interestingly, the USFDA has approved around 1215 ‘Authorized Generics’ as of September 30, 2019.
Advantages of ‘Authorized Generics’ over ‘Traditional Generics’:
The key advantage of ‘Authorized Generics’ over traditional generic drugs is, while traditional generic drugs can be marketed only after patent expiry of the innovator drug, ‘Authorized Generics’ can be marketed even before patent expiry. In other words, innovator companies or their authorized collaborators can make lower priced ‘Authorized Generic’ versions available on their behalf, under their own new drug application (NDA). ‘Authorized Generics’ may be made available to patients even before patent expiry to out-maneuver the conventional generic drug makers, in advance, on price, quality and doctors’ confidence in the original drug.
According to several reports, over the past years, ‘many innovator drugs companies have been launching Authorized Generics, simultaneously with the first Abbreviated New Drug Applications (ANDA) filer’s launch of its generic drug product.’ However, the question remains how do the stakeholders perceive the ‘Authorized Generics’?
Perception of ‘Authorized Generics’:
Studies are available analyzing the impact of ‘Authorized Generics’ on the pharma market and also on the stakeholders. In this article, I shall refer to a comprehensive research study, titled ‘Authorized Generics: Effect on Pharmaceutical Market,’ published in the International Journal of Novel Trends in Pharmaceutical Sciences (IJNPTS), on February 29, 2012, which came out with the some notable findings.
Generally, there isn’t any doubt, either on the fact that ‘Authorized Generics’ provide the identical experience that the patient receives from the brand drug but at a lower price. Nor is there any question over greater confidence of doctors while prescribing these drugs. However, the researchers wrapped up the discussion by stating: It is difficult to conclude that the ‘Authorized Generics’ practice should be continued or banned. Though Indian pharmaceutical companies are dealing with generic drugs – 42 percent of the respondents were in favor of ‘Authorized Generics’ practice, whereas 58 percent opposed it. Thus, the overall perception of ‘Authorized Generics’, appears to be a mixed bag.
There are free flowing arguments both in favor and against the ‘Authorized Generics.’ The article titled, ‘Drugmakers Master Rolling Out Their Own Generics to Stifle Competition,’ published in the Kaiser Health News (KHN) on August 05, 2019, captures it well.
It quoted the spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, a powerful pharma lobby group saying, an Authorized Generic drug “reduces prices and results in significant cost savings.” Whereas the critics say, “Authorized Generics hurt long-term competition and often perversely increase costs, even in the short term.”
The detractors further expressed, ‘Authorized Generics’ don’t just steal sales from existing generic rivals, they erode incentives to make generic drugs. A professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, who studies pharma was also quoted in this article saying, this practice can “stave off generic competition and make sure that generics can’t get much of a foothold when they do get to market.” Adding further he said: “That’s the game. And drug companies have become masters at this.”
As the Kaiser Health News highlighted, Eli Lilly announced launch of the ‘Authorized Generic’ version of Humalog insulin in March 2019 for US$137 a vial, at half the price of its brand name version costing US$237. This was reasoned by the company as a considerate move to address the need of those patients who can’t afford the price of the brand – Humalog. Curiously, even some analysts believe that ‘Authorized Generics’ may help explain why relatively few true generics are reaching the market despite a surge in approvals, especially in the United States.
Against the above backdrop, the drug policy makers need to ponder, would ‘complex generics’ of different companies face greater challenges from ‘Authorized Generics,’ playing a spoilsport for the rest in this ball game?
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.