J&J, Amgen and Roche face growing biosimilar competition that is driving down prices: report

Drug prices
In a new report, Pharmaceutical Strategies Group evaluated biosim competition for Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade, Amgen’s Neulasta as well Roche’s oncology heavyweights Avastin, Herceptin and Rituxan. (Getty/Tero Vesalainen)

Five years since the U.S. saw its first mimic of a biologic drug with Sandoz’s Zarxio, new evidence suggests some innovator biologics are starting to feel the heat from their complex copycats. 

Between 2019 and 2020, the percentage of specialty claims for treatments with an available biosim plummeted at a greater pace compared with previous years, according to the latest “State of Specialty Spend and Trend Report” from the Pharmaceutical Strategies Group (PSG) released on Thursday.

That includes claims for the likes of Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade and Amgen’s Neulasta as well Roche’s oncology heavyweights Avastin, Herceptin and Rituxan. 

In its report, which analyzed 62.1 million medical claims and 50.4 pharmacy claims, PSG compared several biosimilars with their originator biologic treatments, many of which ranked among the most expensive drugs in the world last year. A biosimilar is approved based on showing that it is highly similar to an already-approved biological product, which is derived from a living organism and can come from many sources including humans, animals, microorganisms or yeast. 

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In the case of immunology blockbuster Remicade, or infliximab, biosimilars accounted for about 18% of all claims last year while they didn't account for much at all in 2018, graphs shared in the report suggest. Remicade’s list of copycat foes includes Pfizer’s Inflectra, Organon’s Renflexis and Amgen’s Avsola.

That group of biosimilars forced Remicade’s average sales price down from $75 per unit at the start of 2019 to $45 by the end of 2020, PSG found. It’s notable that Avsola was a latecomer among Remicade’s rivals, launching in July last year, which will likely add more pressure to its price soon, PSG said. 

A similar situation played out with Amgen’s on-body injectable Neulasta, which now rivals against Pfizer’s Nyvepria, Novartis Sandoz’s Ziextenzo, Coherus BioSciences’ Udenyca and Mylan and Biocon’s Fulphila.

The biosims for the treatment now account for 34% of all claims, marking a "rapid" uptake, PSG’s report states. That’s driven Neulasta's average sales price down from $4,500 in early 2019, when it was jostling with just one biosim, Fulphila, to under $3,500 per unit by the end of 2020. 

Roche’s portfolio of oncology biologics also saw a gradual decline in their sales price, but the drugmaker was able to fend off the steep price drops seen with Neulasta and Remicade, PSG found. 

Avastin's average sales price dropped from about $88 per unit to just above $70, Herceptin's went from roughly $100 to slightly above $90, and Rituxan dropped from $90 to about $87, the report's graphs show. 

“Biosimilars are putting price pressure on innovator brands and driving savings for payers and plan sponsors,” Renee Rayburg, RPh, vice president of specialty clinical consulting at PSG, said in a statement. 

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The report comes as Congress and the White House step up their calls for drug pricing reform that would allow for easier access to generic and biosimilar drugs, although it’s unclear whether those calls will materialize to actual legislation in a divided Congress. 

In late July, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance four pieces of legislation aimed at reining in the cost of prescription drugs. Those laws would take aim at some of the anticompetitive behavior pharma companies undertake to stifle generic and biosim competition.