AbbVie offers up 80% Humira discount in EU tender market to hold off biosimilars: report

AbbVie
Biosimilar versions of AbbVie's top drug Humira launched in Europe in mid-October. (AbbVie)

How far is AbbVie willing to go to fend off the new Humira biosimilars in Europe? Quite far, apparently, judging by the enormous discount it offered to win a government contract.

Humira biosims only launched in Europe in mid-October, and AbbVie is already showing it plans to fight back. Through a government tender process, AbbVie managed to keep its hold in a European market by bidding at an 80% discount, according to a Wednesday note from Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal.  

Why AbbVie might have agreed to such a low price is the question, and Gal has a few ideas. First, he wrote, the company will still make money on the deal, thanks to low manufacturing costs. Plus, by aggressively discounting in Europe, AbbVie could protect its U.S. business when copies arrive in a few years, the analyst suggested. 

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“The objective is to defend the U.S. market by denying the biosimilars in-market experience [in Europe] and then arguing the Europeans ‘chose’ Humira over the biosimilars for quality reasons beyond price,” Gal wrote.

Several biosim players launched Humira copycats in Europe this month after inking previous patent deals with AbbVie. But as Gal sees it, they still need to recoup their R&D investments and couldn’t match AbbVie’s low tender price. Looking forward, Humira biosims may carry discounts of 50% to the brand as payers seek favorable pricing, Gal wrote. 

For his part, Evercore ISI analyst Josh Schimmer wrote that tender countries “command super-steep discounts in a ‘winner-take all’ scenario.” Only 15% to 20% of EU markets are structured under such a setup, he wrote. Schimmer added that he's looking for more commentary from AbbVie on the issue when the company reports third-quarter results on Friday.

RELATED: EU biosimilar embrace hits Roche’s Herceptin hard, but the pain is coming for AbbVie, J&J and more: report 

Humira was the world’s biggest drug by sales last year, generating $18.4 billion. In Europe, sales were $4 billion. While biosim makers are trying to make inroads in Europe, they’ll have to wait until 2023 before launching in the U.S. under settlements with AbbVie. Boehringer Ingelheim, for its part, hasn’t settled and continues to fight AbbVie’s patent lawsuit. 

In the meantime, the biosim hopefuls are racking up FDA nods for their contenders years ahead of their launch dates. Novartis’ Humira biosim, Hyrimoz, won FDA approval Wednesday, following nods for biosimilars from Boehringer and Amgen.