Analyst: Pfizer may favor Hospira's Remsima over in-house Remicade biosim

Pfizer CEO Ian Read

When Pfizer ($PFE) agreed to shell out $15 billion-plus for Hospira ($HSP) earlier this year, the pharma giant added major heft to its biosimilars pipeline. At the time, CEO Ian Read said the two companies had "complementary" portfolios of biosimilar prospects--and his tune hasn't changed since.

"[W]e continue to see that our portfolio and Hospira's are highly complementary," Read said during a recent call with analysts.

Those words came in response to an analyst question about "overlapping assets" Pfizer would be getting along with Hospira. The implication? Not so much overlap. But with one product, at least, Pfizer might be preparing to pick and choose among knockoffs.

According to an investor note from Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal, word on the street is that Pfizer could sell off its own in-development biosimilar version of Remicade, the Merck & Co./Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) anti-inflammatory treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. That's because Hospira has a partnership with South Korea-based Celltrion--and that duo is already selling biosimilar Remicade in Europe.

More importantly, recent accounts suggest that the Celltrion-Hospira partnership is grabbing some significant market share with their biosim, sold under the brand names Remsima (Celltrion) and Inflectra (Hospira). Merck ($MRK), which markets the brand in Europe, cited biosimilar competition as one reason for weaned Remicade sales in the second quarter.

If Pfizer does divest its own Remicade biosim, that would say a couple of things about the European market, Gal figures--and about the Celltrion partnership's U.S. prospects.

"As Pfizer will need to pay significant (~50%) royalties on Remsima and has developed its own product internally, the putative decision suggests … solid traction for Remsima in EU and [a] higher likelihood of U.S. approval," Gal writes.

Celltrion is awaiting FDA approval for Remisima, and provided it's forthcoming, projects a launch letter this year. That depends, however, on patent protection. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in February rejected a patent covering the drug through September 2018, but Johnson & Johnson has said it would "pursue all available appeals." Hospira would market Remisima in the U.S., paying royalties to Celltrion.

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