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VIDEO: Rheumatology biosimilars gain U.S. momentum



– With biosimilar infliximab on the U.S. market since November 2016 and producing an immediate, albeit modest, price drop for this tumor necrosis factor inhibitor (TNFi) and a second biosimilar infliximab now approved by the Food and Drug Administration and awaiting market entry, biosimilars are in a new phase of integration into U.S. practice.

“Physicians are willing to prescribe Inflectra,” the first biosimilar infliximab and the first TNFi to be sold in the United States last November, Jonathan Kay, MD, said in a video interview during the European Congress of Rheumatology. “Rheumatologists who were initially skeptical are now on the bandwagon and willing to prescribe biosimilars,” said Dr. Kay, a rheumatologist who has often consulted on biosimilar issues and has recently spoken to rheumatologists at various state society meetings to explain the U.S. biosimilar regulatory concepts and spread the message of the societal value of these agents.

“This is not a quick and casual drug evaluation” that produces “knockoff drugs,” but a “careful and extensive” FDA review that results in drugs that are equivalent in efficacy, safety, and immunogenicity to the reference drug and only compete on price, he explained.

When Pfizer began marketing Inflectra last Fall, it set the drug’s list price 15% lower than the list price at the time for Remicade, the reference-product infliximab. However, complex pricing and rebate strategies actually led to Remicade selling for a lower price than Inflectra, at least for some U.S. hospitals, including the University of Massachusetts in Worcester, where Dr. Kay is a professor of medicine.

“The effect of biosimilars is to reduce the cost to patients of an effective treatment. Whether that cost is for the reference drug or for the biosimilar drug doesn’t matter [from society’s perspective] as long as patients are able to receive an effective therapy at a [more] affordable cost, making the effective therapy available to more patients,” he said.

While Inflectra’s price impact my have been modest so far, the biosimilar effect on infliximab’s cost may soon intensify now that a second biosimilar of this TNFi, Renflexis – made by Samsung Bioepis and with U.S. marketing by Merck, received FDA approval on April 21, 2017. Until recently, U.S. pharmaceutical regulations had been understood to require a 180-day hiatus between FDA marketing approval for a biosimilar and the start of U.S. sales. But, on June 12, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 9-0 decision, ruled that this 180-day wait was not required, making it possible for U.S. marketing of Renflexis to begin soon. (In mid-June, a statement on the Merck U.S. website for Renflexis says that the product is not currently available.)

Availability of a second biosimilar infliximab “is likely to drive the price down rapidly,” predicted Dr. Kay, citing what happened when multiple biosimilars for a reference drug came onto the European market.

Two other biosimilar TNFi have also received FDA marketing approvals but remain on hold as patent issues and litigation barriers play out. Erelzi – biosimilar etanercept – received FDA approval in August 2016, and Amjevita, biosimilar adalimumab, received FDA approval last September.

The efficacy and safety of Inflectra specifically, and by extension all biosimilars, received a recent boost with publication of findings from a randomized study with 482 patients that provided a real-world test of the core principle of biosimilar equivalence. After Inflectra came onto the Norwegian market, during July 2014 to August 2015, Norwegian researchers ran the NOR-SWTICH trial, which randomized patients who were on stable treatment with Remicade for a variety of indications (including 41% with a rheumatologic disease) to either stay on Remicade or to abruptly switch to treatment with Inflectra. During 1-year follow-up, the incidence of adverse effects and of episodes of disease worsening were virtually identical in the two treatment arms (Lancet. 2017 June 10;389[10086]:2304-16).

Dr. Kay has been a consultant to several companies that develop or market biosimilars, including Samsung Bioepis, Amgen, Pfizer, and Sandoz (Novartis), and to AbbVie, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Genentech, Janssen, Roche, and UCB.

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