Teva ponies up $160M-plus for marketing rights to Celltrion's Rituxan, Herceptin biosims

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After Pfizer swallowed Hospira, it returned rights for a couple biosims to its acquisition’s partner, Celltrion. Now, there’s a new owner of those potentially lucrative rights--and it’s Teva.

Thursday, the Israeli drugmaker said it had struck a pact with the Korean company, under which it’ll shell out $160 million up front for U.S. and Canadian rights to copies of Roche cancer giants Rituxan and Herceptin.

The way Teva sees it, the move is another way to “leverage Teva’s unique cross-functional capabilities across both specialty and generic medicines,” generics chief Siggi Olafsson said in a statement. Unlike true generics, biosimilars will require intensive marketing, not only to persuade doctors that the copies are as safe and effective as their branded counterparts, but also to gain an edge on other biosim makers knocking off the same products.

The Celltrion deal is also a way to fuel sales for Teva, which could use a boost right now. For one, its star product--multiple sclerosis leader Copaxone--is currently battling back knockoffs makers eager to toss out its patents. The entire generics industry is suffering from price erosion, and on top of that, Teva is duking it out in court with the former owners of its struggling Mexican generics buy Rimsa, who Teva says misled it during due diligence.

Celltrion’s biosims represent an opportunity to grab a piece of the $6.5 billion Rituxan and Herceptin rack up annually in the U.S. and Canada--and Teva’s hoping that’s an opportunity it can seize sooner rather than later. Both candidates are currently in late-stage Phase III development, Teva said, but they’ve already successfully nailed their primary endpoints.

Of course, those biosims won’t be able to gin up sales overnight. Legal wrangling is almost sure to follow any FDA approval, a factor that’s so far kept Celltrion and Hospira’s U.S.-approved biosimilar--a copy of Johnson & Johnson’s Remicade--from launching.

And it won’t be long before other drugmakers are gunning for a slice of the same pie. Pfizer, for one, is in the race for both Rituxan and Herceptin copies, which is why it returned the prospects to Celltrion in the first place, creating the opportunity for Teva to step in.

Teva’s no newcomer to the biosimilar field though, and the company knows just how tough it can be.  In July of 2013, one-time biosim partner Lonza bailed on the pair’s 2009 accord after learning how much more money the team would need to sock into development and marketing to achieve its ambitions.

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