From the Journals

Rapid shift to adalimumab biosimilars in Denmark contrasts with U.S. experience



Adalimumab biosimilars are years away from entering the marketplace in the United States because of patent disputes, but they already have led to substantial discounts in Denmark, researchers wrote in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The Danish health care system switched almost entirely to adalimumab biosimilars after the patent on the original adalimumab product, Humira, expired there in October 2018. The switch to biosimilars led to an 82% decrease in costs for the medication, wrote Thomas Bo Jensen, MD, and colleagues in a research letter.

Denmark did not automatically substitute biosimilars, but the Danish Medicines Council recommended adalimumab biosimilars for all indications following Humira’s patent expiration. The recommendations “included switching patients to a biosimilar who were already well treated with the originator,” the researchers wrote.

To study the shift to adalimumab biosimilars across all indications in Denmark and calculate cost reductions, Dr. Jensen, of the department of clinical pharmacology at Copenhagen University Hospital Bispebjerg, and coinvestigators examined monthly data on drug sales from Amgros, which purchases all hospital drugs in the country.

“The proportion of adalimumab biosimilars increased from 71.6% (7,040 of 9,829 pens) in November 2018 to 95.1% (8,974 of 9,438 pens) in December 2018,” the researchers wrote. “Costs of adalimumab decreased by 82.8% from September 2018 to December 2018 (September: 8,197 pens at $5.13 million; December: 9,438 pens at $1.01 million).” The results were similar in rheumatology, dermatology, and gastroenterology.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved five adalimumab biosimilars in the United States, but “they will not enter the market until 2023 owing to patent disputes with AbbVie, the manufacturer of Humira,” wrote Jennifer D. Claytor, MD, of the department of internal medicine at University of California, San Francisco, and Walid Gellad, MD, of the division of general internal medicine at University of Pittsburgh, in an accompanying editorial.

The annual postrebate price of Humira doubled between 2013 and 2018, from $19,000 to $38,000, and these price increases may influence the price of biosimilars, “which will be priced using Humira’s price as an anchor,” Dr. Claytor and Dr. Gellad wrote.

A rapid shift to adalimumab biosimilars across the United States when they become available is “unlikely,” they wrote. Nonetheless, “some health care systems of comparable size to Denmark (e.g., the Veterans Affairs system) and others that are larger (e.g., Kaiser Permanente) ... have the ability to switch products quickly through use of formularies and a prescriber workforce. For example, Kaiser Permanente has successfully replaced Remicade (infliximab) with biosimilars in 80% of patients.”

Given the many biologics in development and increasing health care spending, “we need to take seriously the substantial savings offered by biosimilars and the feasibility, as evidenced by Denmark, of switching to biosimilars quickly once they are available on the market,” Dr. Claytor and Dr. Gellad concluded.

The research was supported by an unrestricted grant from Helsefonden. One author disclosed receiving grants from Pfizer, AbbVie, Roche, and Bristol-Myers Squibb outside the current study. The editorial authors had no disclosures.

SOURCE: Jensen TB et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2020 Mar 30. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.0338.

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