Remicade biosim may face an uphill battle with U.S. docs, analyst says

Remsima, a biosimilar of Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Remicade from Pfizer's ($PFE) Hospira and partner Celltrion, is tearing it up in Europe. But don't expect things to play out the same way in the U.S., a Bernstein analyst says.

According to an investor note from the firm's Ronny Gal, the Remicade copy has witnessed "strong EU adoption" since rolling out in most major markets in the second quarter of this year. Most importantly, the U.K. and Germany are picking up the product, and market share there has pushed to 15%. With another market entrant on the way in Biogen ($BIIB) and Samsung's version of the anti-inflammatory blockbuster, Gal only expects that pace to speed up; he forecasts biosimilar share of about 40% by the end of 2017.

In the U.S., though, things will be different, he predicts. Of course, there are the traditional obstacles to biosimilar adoption--for one, educational efforts are still in the early stages, and "the typical community hospital is just now learning the subject," he pointed out.

But Remsima also may face challenges that Novartis ($NVS) isn't facing on Zarxio, the first and only biosimilar on the U.S. market, he notes. Physicians will be looking for flawless data on biosims, he wrote, and that's something both physicians presenting at Bernstein's annual biosimilar meetings agreed the Novartis drug has. On the other hand, they "were not nearly as impressed by Remsima data and saw no reason to take risk on the biosimilar unless the data is perfect (and even then, only when required by the payer)."

A lack of script-writing docs could pose a problem for the drug's makers--as well as other biosimilar players--down the line. Several companies are looking to the biologic knockoffs to make sizable contributions to their top lines, particularly those such as Amgen ($AMGN), which is seeing its own products come under biosimilar attack.

The good news for pharmas hoping to cash in on biosimilar success? In the long run, Gal does believe the U.S. market will be able to catch up to its more-developed European counterpart. There just "may be a more prolonged path to take us there, largely driven by IP barriers and a fractured commercial market," he wrote. "The devil would be in the details."

Payers may be quick to press for biosimilar adoption, too, speeding up market-share gains. Express Scripts ($ESRX), one of the two leading pharmacy benefits managers in the U.S., has said it's eager to adopt the meds and enjoy the expected savings.

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