Facing antitrust lawsuit, J&J's Remicade stands firm against biosimilar competition in Q3

Remicade sales fell 1.3% in the U.S. versus last year's third quarter.

Under a growing biosimilar assault, Johnson & Johnson's big-selling immunology biologic Remicade held its ground again in the third quarter. Now, executives are planning their 2018 defense strategy for a critical medication that leads sales charts for the drug giant. 

On the company's third-quarter conference call, executives said Remicade's sales fell by 1.3% in the U.S. versus the same period last year, to $1.2 billion. That's a small decrease despite the fact that there are now two competing biosimilars in the important market, featuring discounts up to 35% off Remicade's list price.

So how is J&J holding on to those sales? On the company's conference call, pharma head Joaquin Duato said a "key factor" is that "physicians and patients have a high confidence" in the J&J drug based on Remicade's use in 2 million patients and in 16 indications. For 2018, Duato said J&J will make sure physicians can keep prescribing Remicade and work to retain stable patients. He added that his company will continue to "compete vigorously on price." 

Biosimilars are not "designated as interchangable," Duato said during the call, adding that physicians have been "very reluctant" to switch patients to biosimilar options. 

Merck and Pfizer now market Remicade biosimilars, but since its launch a year ago, Pfizer hasn't gained ground with its Inflectra. The company recently sued Johnson & Johnson for "exclusionary contracts" on Remicade that Pfizer argues are anticompetitive. Merck only launched its biosim in July. 

Pfizer said that by tying rebates on Remicade and other medications to the requirement that payers don't use a biosim, J&J has essentially shut out the competition. Pfizer also said J&J uses misleading language to confuse biosim issues. 

The lawsuit could impact the biosim field going forward, as it is just taking shape in the U.S. Pfizer contends the situation won't change without action from the court. 

For its part, J&J said in a public statement that Pfizer is "asking the court to protect it from having to compete." Pfizer has only generated $40 million with Inflectra in the first half of this year in the States, compared with billions in sales for Remicade. 

J&J has been prepping for Remicade biosims for some time, with executives repeatedly expressing confidence that the brand can hold up against biosimilar attacks. Last year, Duato said the market is already "extremely competitive” on price, adding that J&J would develop “innovative contracts” to “utilize the full breadth” of its portfolio.  

All along, J&J has contended that stable patients would be unlikely to switch, helping protect Remicade's market share.