AbbVie's discounting Humira to aid Skyrizi's launch—and a price war could follow: analyst

AbbVie has big plans to grow sales for Humira follow-ups Skyrizi and upadacitinib. Early into its Skyrizi launch for psoriasis, the company has offered discounts on its megablockbuster Humira to secure favorable formulary coverage for its new drug, an analyst writes. 

In immunology and inflammation, AbbVie is serving up 5% to 10% price breaks on its lead drug to secure formulary positioning for Skyrizi, which won approval last month, Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal wrote in a note to clients. The drugmaker will likely increase discounts upon upadacitinib’s approval, he added. 

After conducting payer interviews, Gal believes it’ll be challenging for Skyrizi to secure preferred positioning against established medicines, but if the company tries to, "it may trigger a price war.” 

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AbbVie’s Humira pulled in nearly $20 billion last year, but as U.S. biosimilar competition nears—it's expected in 2023—the drugmaker is looking to grow sales for its newer drugs. On a conference call last month, AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez said the company expects to secure “rapid and broad” formulary coverage for Skyrizi, touting the new drug as a “multi-billion-dollar peak sales” opportunity. This year, AbbVie expects $150 million from Skyrizi, with most of its sales coming in the second half. 

As Skyrizi picks up steam, the drug will likely eat away at Humira's prospects in psoriasis, Gonzalez said. Humira is likely to hold onto its current patients in the indication, he figures, but Skyrizi will be working to grab new patients as they become eligible for treatment.

Outside of the U.S., Humira is already losing steam, as biosimilars launched in Europe in the fall.

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Later in the year, the company should secure approval for upadacitinib, analysts with Clarivate wrote in a “Drugs to Watch” report that came out in March. They expect the rheumatoid arthritis drug will be pharma’s top 2019 launch and pull in $2.2 billion in 2023.