AbbVie's Humira competition begins with Cadila's biosimilar launch in India

The race to grab market share from the world's top-selling drug is on. Indian drugmaker Zydus Cadila has launched a biosimilar of Humira in its home market--the first in a long line of in-development copies to threaten AbbVie's ($ABBV) powerhouse med.

Zydus Cadila Deputy Managing Director Sharvil Patel

The Cadila version, dubbed Exemptia, will cost a fifth of Humira's U.S. price at $200 a vial, Reuters reports. While that's still too expensive for most of India's population--70% of whom gets by on less than $2 per day--the company expects sales of between 1 billion rupees ($16.16 million) and 2 billion rupees on the Indian market, Deputy Managing Director Sharvil Patel told the news service.

Cadila has no plans to stop there. It's already scheduled meetings with regulators in the U.S. and EU, where Humira will lose patent protection in 2016 and 2018, respectively, Patel said. "We are working towards being among the first wave of the launch of this drug's biosimilars globally," he said, noting that Humira has "a very attractive market."

His company isn't the only one with that idea. Multiple drugmakers have their eye on the $11 billion Humira reaped in 2013 worldwide sales, including an Amgen ($AMGN)-Actavis ($ACT) team, an AET BioTech-BioXpress Therapeutics partnership and a collaboration between Oncobiologics and Viropro, according to a recent report from Bioworld.


And with Humira's revenues climbing quickly, there should be plenty of sales to go around. The drug has posted double-digit top-line leaps in each quarter since the Illinois company spun off from parent Abbott Laboratories early last year, most recently churning out a 17.5% increase to reach $3.26 billion in Q3.

But the advancing competition is worrisome for AbbVie, which collected 65% of third-quarter revenue from Humira. Over the summer, the company thought it had the answer, agreeing to shell out $55 billion for rare-disease-focused Shire ($SHPG). But a U.S. crackdown on tax inversions spoiled that deal. AbbVie decided to walk away from the Shire meds that could have bolstered its marketed lineup.

That doesn't mean the company won't be looking for other acquisitions as Humira biosimilars become a reality. While CEO Richard Gonzalez said in September that it was "unlikely" the company would do another $50 billion deal, "we clearly have the wherewithal to be active on the M&A front," he told investors.

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