J&J loses early bid to escape Pfizer's Remicade biosimilars lawsuit

A judge allowed a Pfizer lawsuit to proceed after Johnson & Johnson moved to dismiss the case. (J&J)

Johnson & Johnson has to face Pfizer's Remicade antitrust accusations, a judge ruled Friday, allowing a high-profile lawsuit over alleged "anticompetitive" marketing practices to move forward. 

Judge J. Curtis Joyner stiff-armed J&J's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which claims the company struck payer contracts designed to freeze out competition to its top-selling drug Remicade.

Pfizer claimed J&J's broad deals with pharmacy benefit managers and insurers shackled them to Remicade, leaving lower-priced biosimilars—including its own Inflectra—no room to maneuver. J&J said in public statements that Pfizer wasn’t offering enough value to win business for its rival biosimilar Inflectra.

On Friday, Joyner rejected J&J's position that Pfizer's allegations weren't substantial enough for argument. He wrote that Pfizer “provides detailed allegations regarding J&J’s exclusionary terms with many of the nation’s largest insurers" and an incentive structure that forced providers into accepting those terms. The suit also lined up detailed claims about Pfizer’s attempts to compete, including its guarantees that Inflectra would cost less than Remicade, the ruling states.

Pfizer's claims also "showed how market participants on many levels are injured from J&J’s ability to sell Remicade without having to compete with Inflectra and other biosimilars," the judge wrote.

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With biosimilars finally coming to market in the U.S., the Pfizer-J&J case has garnered attention as a window into the nascent field. Only a few of the biosims approved in the U.S. have made their debuts, thanks to patent litigation, and their sales haven't taken off in the same way the same products did when launched in Europe.

After the decision, a Pfizer spokesperson said the company is “pleased that the court denied Johnson & Johnson’s motion, and this case can now move forward.” A J&J representative said the company "maintains our position that Pfizer's lawsuit is without merit."

"We stand by our contracts and will continue competing on value and price to help ensure patients have affordable access to Remicade," she added. "In contracting for Remicade, payers and providers have demanded, and we have provided aggressive discounts. Since we are competing vigorously, healthcare system costs will go down."

RELATED: With its Remicade biosimilar stymied by the brand, Pfizer sues Johnson & Johnson for 'anticompetitive' dealmaking 

Pfizer sued J&J last September after Inflectra failed to gain much traction in the market, despite the fact that it launched at a discount to the blockbuster brand. The company claimed J&J struck deals that forced insurers to eliminate or “drastically reduce” their coverage of Remicade biosimilars. At the time, Inflectra had gained almost no market share as Remicade held strong against competition.

More recently, Inflectra sales have picked up. The biosim generated $158 million in the second quarter, up 68% over the same period last year. Still, the figure is nowhere near J&J’s Remicade sales, which clocked in at $1.32 billion for the quarter.