Jun 4, 2019

How cheaper drugs are kept off the market

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
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Adapted from a chart by IQVIA; Chart: Axios Visuals

The drug industry has plenty of tools to fend off the new, cheaper competitors called biosimilars — from lawsuits that prevent them from launching to deals that limit their profits after they launch.

Why it matters: The drug market is increasingly composed of biologics, which are pricier than traditional small-molecule drugs. At the same time, biosimilars — which are comparable to generic biologics — are struggling to break through.

Driving the news: UnitedHealthcare, one of the country's largest insurers, will soon disadvantage Udenyca — a biosimilar manufactured by Coherus to compete against Amgen's Neulasta. That's because Amgen offered United a bigger rebate then Coherus.

But this is just one example of how the drug industry finds ways to keep biosimilars off the market.

  • Pfizer is suing Johnson & Johnson over similar practices. It says J&J has created exclusionary deals with insurers, using rebates as leverage to win preferred coverage of J&J's Remicade over Pfizer's biosimilar version.
  • “To date Pfizer has failed to demonstrate sufficient value to patients, providers, payers and employers,” J&J told Reuters.

Lawsuits filed by biologics manufacturers also create a hurdle for biosimilars — well before they're in any position to negotiate with insurers.

What they're saying: J&J's "strategy could serve as a blueprint for every brand name biologic drug maker seeking to maintain monopoly power and profits indefinitely in the face of competition from a lower-priced biosimilar," the Biosimilars Council wrote in a court filing in support of Pfizer.

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