Novartis takes aim at Remicade market with EU biosim rights from Pfizer

Since acquiring Hospira, Pfizer's ($PFE) had a pair of Remicade biosimilars on its hands. Now, it's making moves to pare that number down to one, and Novartis ($NVS) will be reaping the benefits.

The Swiss drugmaker has picked up the European rights to PF-06438179, Pfizer's Phase III Remicade biosimilar candidate, for an undisclosed sum, it said Friday. Sandoz will finish ushering the prospect through the clinic and handle its EMA submission.

For Sandoz, the transaction will strengthen a biosimilar portfolio that includes Zarxio, a copy of Amgen's ($AMGN) Neupogen that last September became the first and only biosimilar on the market in the U.S. And it'll be a chance to swipe some of the $2.37 billion the drug pulled in for Merck ($MRK) before Hospira and Celltrion rolled out their copycat.

Of course, Novartis' newcomer will still have to contend with Hospira's once it hits the scene. And so far, the knockoff has been having a field day at Merck's expense. Recently, the New Jersey pharma giant unveiled sales of the med that sunk 10% for the year and 18% for the fourth quarter at constant exchange rates.

And as Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal wrote in a December note to clients, the pace of market-share bleeding can only be expected to speed up. With yet another entrant waiting in the wings from Biogen ($BIIB) and Samsung, he forecasts biosimilar share of about 40% by the end of 2017.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., it's Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) that could soon be feeling the heat on the Remicade biosimilar front. Earlier this week, an FDA advisory panel recommended the agency green-light the Celltrion contender in all of Remicade's approved indications, which include rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's, ulcerative colitis and psoriasis.

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