Biosimilar of Novartis' eye drug Lucentis launched in India

Novartis' ($NVS) eye drug Lucentis has long had a target on its back from biosimilar makers who would love to get some piece of the $4 billion in annual sales it racks up. Now an Indian drugmaker says it has hit that mark.

Intas said today that it has launched in India a biosimilar of ranibizumab, the active ingredient in Lucentis, that it will price at a quarter of the cost of Novartis' drug, the Business Standard reported.

"Intas' Razumab is a 100% 'Made In India' molecule, a feat achieved by the scientists at Intas. With the mission to provide global healthcare at affordable costs, Razumab will be about 25% cheaper than the imported Lucentis in the hand of the patient," Binish Chudgar, vice chairman of the company, said in a statement. "Our objective is to make the treatment available to a wider patient pool, that is as yet denied treatment due to high cost of imported Lucentis."

According to the Business Standard, Intas has 10 biosimilars available in India and this year got approval in Europe for filgrastim, a biosimilar of Amgen's ($AMGN) blockbuster blood treatment Neupogen. That is the same drug for which Novartis has gotten its own biosimilar approved by the FDA, making it the first in U.S., although its launch has been held up by a patent battle with Amgen.

The last year has marked a turning point for biosimilars, which have been on the market in Europe and India for years, but have yet to develop the momentum that many payers had hoped for, given that they are cheaper than the pricey biologics they mimic. Express Scripts ($ESRX) figures biosimilars will help the U.S. healthcare system shave some $250 billion off its spending over the next 10 years.

Intas is the first but is not the only biosimilar maker going after Lucentis. Hospira earlier this year said it was working with Pfenex ($PFNX) on a copycat version. Hospira ($HSP), which Pfizer ($PFE) is buying in a $17 billion deal, last year got approval in Europe for a biosimilar of Merck's ($MRK) arthritis blockbuster Remicade.

Biosimilars are not the only threat to Lucentis' sales, however. Novartis, which shares Lucentis with Roche ($RHHBY) in some markets, has seen its revenues hammered by competition from Regeneron's ($REGN) eye drug Eylea. They two Swiss companies also have been fined in Europe for allegedly trying to keep doctors from substituting the much cheaper Avastin, which has been used off-label as a less expensive alternative.

- read the Business Standard story