J&J pooh-poohs threat from Remicade biosim this year


All eyes are on Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade now that it’s picked up its first FDA-approved biosimilar competitor. But according to the company’s CFO, there’s nothing to see here.

The New Jersey pharma giant doesn’t expect the newcomer--Inflectra, a med from Celltrion and Pfizer’s Hospira--to hurt Remicade’s U.S. sales in 2016, Dominic Caruso told investors Tuesday on J&J’s Q1 conference call, noting that the brand has IP shields in place that “we intend to defend.”

Celltrion and Hospira might feel differently. While they acknowledged earlier this month that the timing of Inflectra’s rollout would depend on a number of factors--including “marketplace dynamics and intellectual property considerations”--the partners said they were continuing to prep launch plans for later this year. And as Caruso said on the call, J&J has already received a 180-day notice of biosimilar launch from Celltrion.

It’s no surprise that Johnson & Johnson wants to stave off Remicade rivals for as long as possible; last year, the product raked in $4.5 billion in U.S. sales for the drugmaker. The company also knows exactly what happened to Merck, which markets the brand in Europe, when biosimilar competition hit there--and it wasn’t pretty. In Merck’s most recently reported quarter--2015’s Q4--Remicade sales crashed by 18% in constant exchange rates.

J&J’s CEO Alex Gorsky, though, has so far been adamant that his company won’t suffer the same fate even when Inflectra does launch. Earlier this year, he reminded investors that “biosimilars are not generics” and highlighted high rates of patient satisfaction with the branded product.

Inflectra’s makers plan to do their best to prove him wrong, and their discount should help toward that aim. As Celltrion CEO Kim Hyoung-Ki told reporters after Inflectra’s FDA approval, he expects the drug will hit the market at about 20% to 30% below Remicade’s price.

- read the call transcript 

Special Report: The 10 best-selling drugs of 2013 - Remicade

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