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New influx of Humira biosimilars may not drive immediate change


Gastroenterologists in 2023 will have more tools in their arsenal to treat patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. As many as 8-10 adalimumab biosimilars are anticipated to come on the market this year, giving mainstay drug Humira some vigorous competition.

Three scenarios will drive adalimumab biosimilar initiation: Insurance preference for the initial treatment of a newly diagnosed condition, a change in a patient’s insurance plan, or an insurance-mandated switch, said Edward C. Oldfield IV, MD, assistant professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School’s division of gastroenterology in Norfolk.

Even with more drugs to choose from, some gastroenterologists may be hesitant to make a switch. “Outside of these scenarios, I would encourage patients to remain on their current biologic so long as cost and accessibility remain stable,” said Dr. Oldfield.

Edward C Oldfield IV, MD, assistant professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School’s Division of Gastroenterology in Norfolk, Virginia

Dr. Edward C. Oldfield IV

Many factors will contribute to the success of biosimilars. Will physicians be prescribing them? How are biosimilars placed on formularies and will they be given preferred status? How will manufacturers price their biosimilars? “We have to wait and see to get the answers to these questions,” said Steven Newmark, JD, MPA, chief legal officer and director of policy, Global Healthy Living Foundation/CreakyJoints, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in New York.

Prescribing biosimilars is no different than prescribing originator biologics, so providers should know how to use them, said Mr. Newmark. “Most important will be the availability of patient-friendly resources that providers can share with their patients to provide education about and confidence in using biosimilars,” he added.

Overall, biosimilars are a good thing, said Dr. Oldfield. “In the long run they should bring down costs and increase access to medications for our patients.”

Others are skeptical that the adalimumab biosimilars will save patients much money.

Biosimilar laws were created to lower costs. However, if a patient with insurance pays only $5 a month out of pocket for Humira – a drug that normally costs $7,000 without coverage – it’s unlikely they would want to switch unless there’s comparable savings from the biosimilar, said Stephen B. Hanauer, MD, medical director of the Digestive Health Center and professor of medicine at Northwestern Medicine, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.

Like generics, Humira biosimilars may face some initial backlash, said Dr. Hanauer.

2023 broadens scope of adalimumab treatments

The American Gastroenterological Association describes a biosimilar as something that’s “highly similar to, but not an exact copy of, a biologic reference product already approved” by the Food and Drug Administration. Congress under the 2010 Affordable Care Act created a special, abbreviated pathway to approval for biosimilars.

AbbVie’s Humira, the global revenue for which exceeded $20 billion in 2021, has long dominated the U.S. market on injectable treatments for autoimmune diseases. The popular drug faces some competition in 2023, however, following a series of legal settlements that allowed AbbVie competitors to release their own adalimumab biosimilars.

“So far, we haven’t seen biosimilars live up to their potential in the U.S. in the inflammatory space,” said Mr. Newmark. This may change, however. Previously, biosimilars have required infusion, which demanded more time, commitment, and travel from patients. “The new set of forthcoming Humira biosimilars are injectables, an administration method preferred by patients,” he said.

The FDA will approve a biosimilar if it determines that the biological product is highly similar to the reference product, and that there are no clinically meaningful differences between the biological and reference product in terms of the safety, purity, and potency of the product.

The agency to date has approved 8 adalimumab biosimilars. These include: Idacio (adalimumab-aacf, Fresenius Kabi); Amjevita (adalimumab-atto, Amgen); Hadlima (adalimumab-bwwd, Organon); Cyltezo (adalimumab-adbm, Boehringer Ingelheim); Yusimry (adalimumab-aqvh from Coherus BioSciences); Hulio (adalimumab-fkjp; Mylan/Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin Biologics); Hyrimoz (adalimumab-adaz, Sandoz), and Abrilada (adalimumab-afzb, Pfizer).

“While FDA doesn’t formally track when products come to market, we know based on published reports that application holders for many of the currently FDA-approved biosimilars plan to market this year, starting with Amjevita being the first adalimumab biosimilar launched” in January, said Sarah Yim, MD, director of the Office of Therapeutic Biologics and Biosimilars at the agency.

At press time, two other companies (Celltrion and Alvotech/Teva) were awaiting FDA approval for their adalimumab biosimilar drugs.

Among the eight approved drugs, Cyltezo is the only one that has a designation for interchangeability with Humira.

An interchangeable biosimilar may be substituted at the pharmacy without the intervention of the prescriber – much like generics are substituted, depending on state laws, said Dr. Yim. “However, in terms of safety and effectiveness, FDA’s standards for approval mean that biosimilar or interchangeable biosimilar products can be used in place of the reference product they were compared to.”

FDA-approved biosimilars undergo a rigorous evaluation for safety, effectiveness, and quality for their approved conditions of use, she continued. “Therefore, patients and health care providers can rely on a biosimilar to be as safe and effective for its approved uses as the original biological product.”


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