Conference Coverage

Trio of biosimilars have good showing

View on the News

Incorporating biosimilars into cancer care

A variety of issues are influencing whether and how clinicians incorporate biosimilars into cancer care, according to Michael A. Thompson, MD, PhD, medical director of the Early Phase Cancer Research Program and the Oncology Precision Medicine Program at Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee, Wis., who spoke at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

“The issue of competition is highly relevant to biosimilars,” he said. Among important questions here: Is the oncology drug market a free market? Who owns the biosimilar companies? Does competition lower drug prices? And if biosimilars don’t decrease drug cost, why bother pursuing them? “We are seeing examples where the biosimilars have been developed, they appear to work, they appear safe, and really the proof will be how much is this pushing the market to decrease cost,” he noted.

Real-world data provide some insight into how biosimilars are being incorporated into oncology care. For example, in patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, hematologists tend to use rituximab (Rituxan) biosimilars in later lines of therapy, in patients with a better performance status and fewer comorbidities, and in cases of indolent or incurable disease (J Clin Oncol. 2018;36[suppl; abstr 112]). “So it appears that prescribers are acting tentatively to cautiously test the waters,” Dr. Thompson said.

Use will be influenced by clinical decision support and pathways, whether those are developed by institutions or insurers. These tools generally look at efficacy first, safety second, and cost third.

The relevance of patient choice (especially when physicians decreasingly have a choice) and perception of biosimilars may, or may not, be important, according to Dr. Thompson. In some areas of medicine, there is evidence of a nocebo effect: Patients perceive worsening of symptoms when they believe they are getting a nonbranded medication. But “I am not sure if this is valid in oncology, where we are already using many older chemotherapy drugs, the generics,” he said.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology recently published a statement on the use of biosimilars and related issues, such as safety and efficacy; naming and labeling; interchangeability, switching, and substitution; and the value proposition of these agents (J Clin Oncol. 2018 Apr 20;36[12]:1260-5). “The ASCO statement and guidelines are a great resource for really digging deeply into this area,” Dr. Thompson commented.

One concern surrounding uptake of biosimilars is the possibility of an actual increase in patient cost related to single sources and potentially differing reimbursement rates, which could diminish the financial benefit of these drugs. Technically, if biosimilars have similar efficacy and safety, and lower cost, they provide greater value than the reference drugs.

But there may still be reasons for not using a higher-value drug, according to Dr. Thompson. Clinicians may have lingering questions about efficacy and safety despite trial data, a situation that is being addressed in Europe by postmarketing pharmacovigilance. Other issues include delays in pathway implementation, the contracting of pharmacies with companies, and creation of new chemotherapy builds in electronic medical records. “These are all minor but potential barriers to as fast an implementation as possible,” he said.



Oncology biosimilars for bevacizumab (Avastin), trastuzumab (Herceptin), and filgrastim (Neupogen and others) have yielded positive results in various patient populations and clinical settings, investigators reported at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The findings further advance the promise of new agents that have no clinically meaningful differences in efficacy and safety when compared with their reference drugs but have substantially lower cost.

Susan London/MDedge News

Dr. Michael A. Thompson

“Biosimilars are here,” commented Michael A. Thompson, MD, PhD, medical director of the Early Phase Cancer Research Program and the Oncology Precision Medicine Program at Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee, Wis. “Issues remain, including clinical decision support and pathway adoption, naming differences across the world, competition and lower prices versus the illusion of a free market, and adoption to decrease costs and increase value to our patients. I think, ultimately, we’ll have to ask, what do you think?” he said during an invited discussion (see “View on the News”).

Bevacizumab biosimilar

The REFLECTIONS trial (NCT02364999) was a multinational, first-line, randomized, controlled trial among 719 patients with advanced nonsquamous NSCLC. Patients were randomized to paclitaxel and carboplatin chemotherapy plus either bevacizumab (sourced from the European Union) or the candidate bevacizumab biosimilar PF-06439535 on a double-blind basis, followed by monotherapy with the same assigned agent.

Susan London/MDedge News

Dr. Mark A. Socinski

The overall response rate by week 19, confirmed by week 25, the trial’s primary endpoint, was 45.3% with the biosimilar and 44.6% with bevacizumab, reported lead author Mark A. Socinski, MD, executive medical director of the Florida Hospital Cancer Institute in Orlando.

The confidence interval for the risk difference fell within the equivalence margins set by European Union regulators (–13% and +13% for the 95% confidence interval). And the confidence interval for the risk ratio fell within the equivalence margins set by the Food and Drug Administration (0.73 and 1.37 for the 90% CI) and Japanese regulators (0.729 and 1.371 for the 95% CI).

Median progression-free survival was 9.0 months with the biosimilar and 7.7 months with bevacizumab (hazard ratio, 0.974; P = .814), and corresponding 1-year rates were 30.8% and 29.3%, Dr. Socinski reported. Median overall survival was 18.4 months and 17.8 months (HR, 1.001; P = .991), and corresponding 1-year rates were 66.4% and 68.8%.

Rates of grade 3 or higher hypertension, cardiac disorders, and bleeding did not differ significantly with the two agents. Patients also had similar rates of grade 3 or higher serious adverse events and of fatal (grade 5) serious adverse events (5.3% with the biosimilar and 5.9% with bevacizumab).

“Similarity between PF-06439535 and bevacizumab-EU was demonstrated for the primary efficacy endpoint of overall response rate. ... There were no clinically meaningful differences in safety profile shown in this trial, and similar pharmacokinetic and immunogenicity results were seen across treatment groups,” Dr. Socinski summarized.

“These results confirm similarity demonstrated in earlier analytical, nonclinical, and clinical studies of PF-06439535 with bevacizumab-EU,” he concluded.

Trastuzumab biosimilar

The phase 3 HERITAGE trial was a first-line, randomized, controlled trial that compared biosimilar trastuzumab-dkst (Ogivri) with trastuzumab in combination with taxane chemotherapy and then as maintenance monotherapy in 458 patients with HER2+ advanced breast cancer.

The 24-week results, previously reported (JAMA. 2017 Jan 3;317[1]:37-47), showed a similar overall response rate with each agent when combined with chemotherapy. Rates of various adverse events were essentially the same.

Susan London/MDedge News

Dr. Hope S. Rugo

The 48-week results showed a median progression-free survival of 11.1 months with trastuzumab-dkst and 11.1 months with trastuzumab (HR, 0.95; P = .842), reported senior investigator Hope S. Rugo, MD, a clinical professor of medicine and director of the Breast Oncology Clinical Trials Program at the University of California, San Francisco, Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. “The overall survival is immature but is impressive at over 80% at 52 weeks,” she noted.

Presence of overall response at 24 weeks correlated with duration of progression-free survival at 48 weeks (biserial r = .752). “Additional patients achieved a response during the monotherapy portion of the treatment, which is intriguing and clearly emphasizes the importance of monotherapy, as well as the importance of having alternate agents at lower cost available,” Dr. Rugo commented.

Common adverse events through week 48 were much the same as those seen at week 24, with few additional ones occurring during monotherapy. “No new safety issues were observed, and in fact, toxicity during monotherapy was quite minor,” she noted. “One thing that’s interesting here is that there was more arthralgia during the first 24 weeks with trastuzumab-dkst than with trastuzumab, but in monotherapy, this fell down to a very low number and was identical between the two arms. Paclitaxel, which people stayed on for longer [with the biosimilar], may have been the cause of this.”

The 48-week rates of adverse events of special interest – respiratory events, cardiac disorders, and infusion-related adverse events – and of serious adverse events were similar for the two agents.

“We didn’t see any additional serious cardiac events during monotherapy,” Dr. Rugo noted. Mean and median left ventricular ejection fraction over 48 weeks were similar, as was the rate of LVEF, which dropped below 50% (4.0% with trastuzumab-dkst and 3.3% with trastuzumab). The incidences of antidrug antibody and neutralizing antibody were also comparably low in both groups.

“HERITAGE data, now at week 48, supports trastuzumab-dkst as a biosimilar to trastuzumab in all approved indications,” Dr. Rugo said. “Final overall survival will be assessed after 36 months or after 240 deaths, whichever occurs first. Based on current data, this is predicted to conclude by the end of 2018, with final overall survival data available next year.

“Trastuzumab-dkst provides an additional high-quality treatment option for patients with HER2+ breast cancers in any setting,” she added. “This study indeed shows that biosimilars offer the potential for worldwide cost savings and improved access to life-saving therapies. It’s sobering to think that the patients enrolled in this study would not otherwise have had access to continued trastuzumab therapy, and so many of them are still alive with longer follow-up.”

Next Article: