What Will Happen When Biotech Drugs Go Generic?

What Will Happen When Biotech Drugs Go Generic?
June 13 01:00 2014

What Will Happen When Biotech Drugs Go Generic?

In a few years, the first blockbusters of the biotech age will begin to face generic competition. Big drugs like Amgen’s AMGN +2.54% Epogen and Neulasta, Roche and Biogen Idec’s BIIB +2.4% Rituxan, and Erbitux, from Eli Lilly and Bristol-Myers Squibb BMY -0.1%, could eventually face cheaper competitors. But they won’t be exact substitutions, because these drugs will be so much harder to make. Most will not be true generics but biosimilars — products with a similar profile that are still seen as slightly different from the original.

So how quickly will sales erode? It will depend on the disease being treated and whether decisions are being made by physicians and patients or by hospital administrators, according to a new analysis by ZS Associates, a global consultancy.

One of the first cases of a biosimilar being launched was when Omnitrope, a form of human growth hormone made by Novartis’ generics business, Sandoz, was introduced to challenge Pfizer’s PFE +0.64% Genotropin in 2007. Initially, there was little use of Omnitrope, even though Sandoz had priced it at 40% less than branded Genotropin. In the U.S., traditional generics get automatically substituted by the pharmacists unless a physician suggests otherwise. With growth hormone, physicians and patients initially had no reason to switch. What helped Omnitrope gain market share was a series of efforts one would expect in a war between two brands. Patient assistance programs helped people afford the medicine, rebates to health plans made it cheaper to insurers, and new clinical trials made doctors more comfortable prescribing it. Even with that 40% discount, Omnitrope still has less market share than Genotropin.

n some cases, doctors and patients may not be willing to switch to an alternative. That’s was the case when Shire launched Vpriv in the midst of a shortage of Genzyme’s Cerezyme, for Gaucher’s disease, a rare disorder of the bones and connective tissue. Doctors and patients switched initially because of the supply problems, but then they switched back — even though Vpriv was 15% cheaper. They were loyal to the original product, and no one forced them to switch on the basis of price, which was handled by insurers and patient assistance charities funded by drug makers. In cases like these, copycat drugs may have trouble making a dent, lowering drug costs for the system as a whole, or hurting established players…

Read full story at Forbes
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