Pfizer believes a dose of confidence will help it sell biosimilars

Pfizer Biosimilars GM Diem Nguyen

As drug prices climb and expensive newcomers inspire payers to get creative to contain costs, a window is widening for meds that can drive efficiency for healthcare systems and address consumers' needs. That's where biosimilars come in--or so Pfizer ($PFE) figures.

The company is looking to cash in on a biosimilars trend it hopes will score big sales once the copycat drugs hit the U.S. market, with 5 monoclonal antibodies under development. Unsurprisingly, they're modeled after some of the world's top-selling drugs; Pfizer's biosimilars for Roche ($RHHBY) and Biogen Idec's ($BIIB) MabThera/Rituxan, Roche's Herceptin, and Johnson & Johnson/Merck's ($MRK) Remicade are all in Phase III development, while its biosimilar copycat to Roche's Avastin recently completed a Phase I trial and its version of AbbVie's ($ABBV) $11-billion-a-year seller Humira is in the early testing stages.

As Diem Nguyen, general manager of Pfizer Biosimilars, told FiercePharmaMarketing in an email, Pfizer has the wherewithal and R&D know-how to develop biosimilars, and the company is "actively engaging" with local markets to support patient safety and access, Nguyen said.

"By leveraging Pfizer's therapeutic area expertise, advanced R&D capabilities, technology, manufacturing capability and geographic reach, the company aims to meet the needs of our patients and stakeholders, who are seeking a wide array of therapeutic choices," she said.

But "long-term success of biosimilars will depend on ... instilling confidence in their use by physicians and patients," Nguyen said, and that's where successful marketing will be key. To that end, Pfizer recently launched a website to provide background on its biosimilar drugs and to illustrate R&D and manufacturing for the treatments, Nguyen told FiercePharmaMarketing.

Rolling out new biosimilars could mean big things for Pfizer, as the company homes in on a market estimated to grow to $35 billion by 2020, according to a study from Allied Marketing Research. Top biologics are set to fall off the patent cliff, and pharma giants like Novartis ($NVS) and Hospira ($HSP) are taking advantage of the opportunity. In July, Novartis became the first drugmaker to submit an application for a biosimilar to the FDA. And while regulatory pressures and public response could put a damper on biosimilars' success in the short term, the long-term payoff will be huge, Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez told Reuters earlier this year.

"By the year 2020, which is just 5 years from now, you're going to see a big impact," he said.

Meanwhile, drugmakers are exploring emerging markets as a potential space for biosimilar growth. Earlier this week, Boston-based biosimilar maker Epirus Biopharmaceuticals ($EPRS) launched a copy of Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) rheumatoid arthritis drug Remicade in India with partner Ranbaxy Laboratories. The drug will hit the market a quarter ahead of schedule and will be available to Indian patients at a significant discount.

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