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FDA Approves Four Biosimilars During Summer 2019 While Europe is on Vacation

  • FDA approves fourth Humira® (adalimumab) biosimilar with launch delayed to 2023.
  • FDA approves second Rituxan® (rituximab) biosimilar, neither of which has launched.
  • FDA approves second Avastin® (bevacizumab) biosimilar, which is expected to launch in late 2019.
  • FDA approves fifth Herceptin® (trastuzumab) biosimilar, which launched in July 2019.
  • European Medicines Agency has not approved any new biosimilars since April 2019.

As pharmaceutical drug costs attract increasing media attention and political scrutiny, a growing number of biosimilar drugs are set to enter the U.S. and European markets in the coming years.  Global sales for the top ten branded biologic drugs totaled approximately $71 billion in 2017[1].  In July 2018, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced a Biosimilars Action Plan to aid the development of a market for biosimilars in order to increase competition for biologic drugs, which make up 40% of U.S. pharmaceutical spending.  Competition in the heavily regulated marketplace for these blockbuster therapeutics is expected to substantially impact the pharmaceutical industry and national health systems.  To date, the U.S. has considerably lagged behind Europe’s expansion of biosimilar drug options.  The RAND Corporation estimates that biosimilar products can save the U.S. health system approximately $54 billion over the next decade, as discussed here.

Since 2005, the biosimilar regulatory framework in Europe has been implemented through the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) under the European Medicines Agency (EMA).  The CHMP provides initial assessments for marketing authorization of new medicines that are ultimately approved centrally by the EMA.  Since Sandoz’s somatotropin biosimilar, Omnitrope®, was first authorized on April 12, 2006, an additional 59 applications have been approved in Europe.  Six of the authorizations have been withdrawn post-approval (Table 1).

The U.S. did not implement a regulatory framework for biosimilar evaluation until after enactment of the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA) of 2009.  Given that the first U.S. biosimilar drug was approved almost a decade after the first in Europe, the number of authorized biosimilar drugs in Europe far exceeds the number of biosimilars approved in the United States.  Sandoz’s filgrastim biosimilar, Zarxio®, received the first U.S. approval in 2015, whereas nine filgrastim biosimilars have been approved in Europe dating back to multiple authorizations in 2008.  Zarxio® (in the U.S.) and Zarzio® (in Europe) are biosimilar to the reference product Neupogen® marketed by Amgen and originally licensed in 1991.  Subsequent to Zarxio®’s approval, 22 other biosimilar drugs have gained U.S. approval to date (Table 2).

As illustrated in the following graph, while the EU’s significant head start led to an imbalance in the number of biosimilar drugs available in the respective markets, the EU’s relatively higher rate of approvals in recent years has widened its lead over the United States, although the U.S. FDA made up some ground in the past quarter.

Currently, nine biosimilar applications are under review by the EMA for marketing authorization (Table 3).  As an increasing number of patents expire on blockbuster biologic drugs, the number of abbreviated biologics license applications is also increasing.  Biosimilars for at least 24 different original biologics are currently navigating biosimilar pathways or are in late stage development in the U.S. (Table 4).

On June 13, 2019, Amgen announced the approval of its trastuzumab biosimilar KanjintiTM.  “The FDA approval of KANJINTI is an important milestone for our biosimilars portfolio, providing an additional treatment option for patients across three types of cancer,” said David M. Reese, M.D., executive vice president of Research and Development at Amgen. “KANJINTI is the third biosimilar from our portfolio to receive FDA approval, highlighting our long-term commitment to providing patients with serious illnesses access to high-quality biological therapies.”  Amgen and Allergan launched KanjintiTM in July 2019.

On June 28, 2019, Pfizer announced the approval of its bevacizumab biosimilar ZirabevTM.  “Biosimilars like ZIRABEV can help increase access to impactful therapies, driving market competition that may ultimately lower costs and help address the diverse needs of patients living with cancer,” said Andy Schmeltz, Global President, Pfizer Oncology. “We are proud to add ZIRABEV to our growing oncology portfolio for U.S. patients living with a wide variety of tumor types.”  While no launch date has been set, ZirabevTM is expected to launch in late 2019 or early 2020.

On July 23, 2019, Pfizer announced the approval of its rituximab biosimilar RuxienceTM.  “Biosimilars like RUXIENCE have the potential to deliver real value in healthcare, improving access to and affordability of an important cancer treatment which could help more patients receive optimal care,” said Andy Schmeltz, Global President, Pfizer Oncology. “The FDA approval marks our third oncology biosimilar to be approved in the U.S. this year, reinforcing our commitment to bring these important medicines to patients living with cancer.”  No launch date has been announced.

Also on July 23, 2019, Samsung Bioepis announced the approval of its adalimumab biosimilar HadlimaTM.  “With the approval of HADLIMA, we are proud to have three anti-TNF biosimilars approved in the U.S. We believe the US healthcare system can benefit from biosimilars which could play a critical role in broadening access to treatment options for patients with autoimmune conditions across the country,” said Hee Kyung Kim, Senior Vice President and Head of Regulatory Affairs, Samsung Bioepis. “We remain committed to advancing our strong pipeline of biosimilar candidates, so that more patients and healthcare systems can benefit from biosimilars.”

The FDA has recently provided useful guidance on biosimilar development under the BPCIA, as reported here.  Under the leadership of Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the FDA advanced new policies aimed at promoting more competition when it comes to biosimilar products as outlined in Dr. Gottlieb’s December 11, 2018 statement on new actions advancing the agency’s biosimilars policy framework.  However, with Dr. Gottlieb’s unexpected resignation on March 5, 2019, it will be up to the next permanent successor to guide stakeholders in navigating the FDA approval process.

Table 1. European Medicines Agency List of Approved Biosimilar Drugs (updated September 17, 2019).

Table 2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration List of Approved Biosimilar Drugs.

Table 3. European Medicines Agency List of Biosimilars Under Evaluation for Marketing Approval (Source: EMA list of applications for new human medicines compiled on September 2, 2019 and published on September 3, 2019).

Table 4. Biologics having already expired or nearing primary patent expiry in the U.S. and biologics that have biosimilars in the regulatory pipeline.

[1] Based on sales reported by respective manufacturers (1. Humira—Abbvie, 2. Rituxan—Roche, 3. Enbrel—Pfizer/Amgen, 4. Herceptin—Roche, 5. Avastin—Roche, 6. Remicade—Johnson & Johnson/Merck, 7. Lantus—Sanofi, 8. Neulasta—Amgen, 9. Avonex—Biogen, 10. Lucentis—Roche/Novartis).