Last month, Pfizer hit the market with Inflectra, a biosimilar of Johnson & Johnson's Remicade. And with the launch came not only the beginning of a new class of copycats, but a new way to go to market, Pfizer says.
Biosimilars are unique in that while they approximate what generics are to branded small molecule drugs, they are not exact copies of biologic drugs. Each biosimilar, even versions of the same biologic—while required to be “highly similar”—are technically different and come with different datasets and proof points.
So Pfizer went to work to create a new “hybrid model” to bring biosimilars to market, Diem Nguyen, the regional president in North America for Pfizer Essential Health Business, told FiercePharma in an interview.
The multichannel approach focuses on targeting healthcare providers rather than consumers because, Nguyen said, “we really believe because of the lack of interchangeability that the healthcare provider needs to be with the patient making an informed decision about whether they should take Inflectra in a new patient or in a switch situation.”
Some of the key elements include “significant education” by dedicated field reps, account managers and medical advisory board facilitators in hospitals, along with literature and digital assets. Another important part of the plan is a patient assistance program called enCompass that provides copays, reimbursement support and financial assistance, Nguyen said.
“One of our key commercial differentiators is the ability to have this portfolio and additional structure dedicated specifically for biosimilars,” she said. “We have a very comprehensive support system with multiple prongs to reach decision makers for a thoughtful uptake of biosimilars.”
It's the model Pfizer is using with Inflectra now, but also for the 13 other biosimilars Pfizer has in its pipeline—8 biosimilars in late-stage in the U.S. and 6 in the early stages—in the rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation and oncology areas, she said. While each biosimilar brand launch will be customized, each will also leverage the scale of the model platform.
For Nguyen, who started the biosimilar business at Pfizer 6 years ago, the launch of Inflectra is both exciting and rewarding.
“We are extremely bullish and excited about the uptake of Inflectra, but more importantly, we’re excited to provide an affordable high quality option for physicians and patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis as well as a number of other diseases,” she said.
Inflectra is the second biosimilar approved for sale in the U.S.—Sandoz’ Zarxio was first last year—and it's just the beginning of a wave of biosimilars set to launch in the U.S. and challenge traditional market-leading biologics.