- FDA and EMA both approve additional biosimilar versions of Humira® (adalimumab).
- FDA also approves its third biosimilar version of Neupogen® (filgrastim).
- EMA has not approved any new biosimilars in 2022, but has recommended approval of teriparatide biosimilar Sondelbay and the pegfilgrastim biosimilar Stimufend.
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 $85 billion in 2020. In a September 2020 report, the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science estimated biosimilar sales totaling $80 billion over the next five years compared to $14 billion during the previous five years (2015-2019), and that the availability and use of biosimilar medicines would reduce U.S. drug costs by $100 billion through 2024. In a January 2022 report, IQVIA updated global estimates showing estimated biosimilar sales of about $40 billion in 2025 and $75 billion in 2030.
In the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research’s (CDER) annual report, the FDA highlighted the three biosimilar approvals in 2020 under the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act (BPCIA) of 2009, which was “designed to create competition, increase patient access, and potentially reduce cost of important therapies.” The FDA’s Biosimilars Action Plan, unveiled in 2018, has been designed 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.
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 83 applications have been approved in Europe. Fourteen of the authorizations have been withdrawn post-approval (Table 1).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, 33 other biosimilar drugs have gained U.S. approval to date including two interchangeable products (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 reversed that trend in 2019 with ten approvals. Through 2021 and thus far in 2022, relatively fewer biosimilars have been approved by both FDA and EMA than in prior years. Given the increasing competition between biosimilar manufacturers in Europe, four EMA-authorized biosimilar products were withdrawn in 2021.
A recent study of U.S. biosimilar approvals found that most comparative efficacy trials conducted to obtain FDA approval for a biosimilar had a tendency to be larger, longer, and more costly than clinical trials required for originator products. Moreover, the FDA requires animal studies whereas the EMA does not require animal studies to approve a biologic product. Further, given the difficult patent litigation and competitive landscapes, there appear to be fewer biosimilar BLAs than in 2017-2019, and launches of FDA-approved adalimumab and rituximab biosimilars are delayed due to settlements of patent litigations. Thus, in addition to the patent litigation landscape, there are regulatory hurdles and costs faced by biosimilar applicants that deter or delay biosimilar products from reaching the U.S. market.
Currently, fourteen 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 more than 28 different original biologics are currently navigating biosimilar pathways or are in late stage development in the U.S. (Table 4).
On December 20, 2021, the FDA approved Coherus’ adalimumab YusimryTM biosimilar. “YUSIMRY represents an enormous commercial opportunity for Coherus as we continue our mission of increasing patient access to important biologic medicines while at the same time lowering the cost of care,” said Paul Reider, Chief Commercial Officer of Coherus. “Humira is the top-selling drug in the U.S. with 2020 net sales exceeding $16 billion, and demand is high across the healthcare ecosystem for a less expensive Humira biosimilar. We will deliver a compelling value proposition to all stakeholders and look forward to launching YUSIMRY in 2023.” On February 28, 2022, the FDA approved Amneal and Kashiv’s filgrastim ReleukoTM biosimilar. “The U.S. approval of our first biosimilar is a very significant milestone for Amneal. Biosimilars represent the next wave of providing access to affordable medicines in the U.S. We are building a global biosimilars business by leveraging partner assets to start and then leveraging our own key capabilities over time. Our goal is to become a meaningful long-term player in biosimilars,” said Chirag and Chintu Patel, Co-Chief Executive Officers.
Table 1. European Medicines Agency List of Approved Biosimilar Drugs (updated March 13, 2022).
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 March 8, 2022 and published on March 11, 2022).
Table 4. Biologics having already expired or nearing primary patent expiry in the U.S. and biologics that have biosimilars in the regulatory pipeline.
 Based on sales reported by respective manufacturers (1. Humira—Abbvie ($20.39B), 2. Keytruda—Merck ($14.38B), 3. Eylea—Aflibercept ($8.36B), 4. Stelara—Johnson & Johnson ($7.94B), 5. Opdivo—Bristol-Myers-Squibb ($7.92B), 6. Enbrel—Pfizer/Amgen ($6.37B), 7. Avastin—Roche ($5.32B), 8. Trulicity—Eli Lilly ($5.07B), 9. Ocrevus—Roche ($4.61B), 10. Rituxan—Roche ($4.52B).