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AmerisourceBergen Rep Previews the Year Ahead for Biosimilars: What’s Coming Down the Pipeline in 2022?


Sean McGowan, senior director of Biosimilars for AmerisourceBergen, forecasts potential biosimilar approvals and launches in 2022 as well as offers insights into how emerging biosimilars will impact the market and pricing in the coming years during an interview.

CfB: I'm Tony Hagen with The Center for Biosimilars. Today, we're speaking with Sean McGowan. He's the senior director of Biosimilars for AmerisourceBergen. Welcome, Sean.

McGowan: Hi, Tony. Thanks for having me.

CfB: Sean, can you comment about biosimilar approvals in 2021? It was a pretty interesting year, I think, even though we had just a few.

McGowan: Yeah, it was it was quite a year of firsts for biosimilars in 2021. And in starting with the biggest approval and launch onto the market with the Semglee [insulin glargine] product from Mylan/Viatris. In July of 2021, the FDA approved the first ever interchangeable biosimilar product in Semglee, an insulin product indicated for treatment for type 1 and type 2 diabetes. That product launched in November with actually 2 versions of branded and an unbranded version. So, Semglee's entrance into the retail pharmacy, including mail order pharmacy, space makes it the first biosimilar to be covered under patients’ pharmacy benefit or Part D plans. So, kind of a first of its kind.

And the interesting thing about the Semglee launch is that it's got the potential to positively impact millions of more patients with its availability at the pharmacy counter. And this is definitely going to be a preview of what's to come with the future of Part D biosimilar launches. Not to mention that Semglee has been recently adopted on to a couple of national PBM [pharmacy benefit manager] formularies, including Express Scripts and Prime Therapeutics.

As we look into other therapeutic areas in 2021, we also saw the first biosimilar approval in the retina-ophthalmology space with Biogen's Byooviz, which references Lucentis [originator ranibizumab]. In October, we saw the FDA approved Cyltezo, making it the first interchangeable biosimilar product referencing Humira [originator adalimumab] and only the second interchangeable product ever to be approved by the FDA. And just to clarify, Cyltezo already had FDA approval. It was that interchangeable designation that received approval back in October.

Then in late December, right before the end of the year, the FDA approved 2 other biosimilars: an insulin glargine product from Lilly and then Yusimry, a biosimilar referencing Humira from Coherus [Biosciences]. So, all of these approvals and entrances in 2021 indicate to me that the FDA is getting back on track to reviewing and approving these products so patients can access these treatments. Also, it's an indication that the market continues to expand.

CfB: Just a footnote to that introduction. The Semglee launch was both a branded and unbranded. Can you shed any light on why that strategy was chosen by Biocon?

McGowan: Yeah, so Mylan and Viatris are the commercial partners and US Biocon is the manufacturing partner and from what I can see and what's been published publicly is that there's actually a non-biosimilar version of Semglee already on the market that had launched back in [the] summer of 2020. And that product came out on the market with a heavily discounted WAC [wholesale acquisition cost] price and looked to be launched to compete more in the Medicare Part D and Medicaid space or those cash paying patients. And then as the biosimilar products were being approved, Mylan/Viatris was looking to compete both in the commercial space as well as that Medicare/Medicaid space. And so, they've kind of launched the same product under 2 different names, 1 branded and 1 un-branded to fit specifically into some specific payer markets. And so, we're less than a quarter into the launch of this product and time will tell on how that strategy actually plays out.

CfB: Thanks. So, at the GRxBiosims meeting, which is a fairly informative conference, there were several FDA representatives speaking and they seemed a lot more focused on biosimilars than they had been in the past. Coming out of the pandemic, or at least, maybe partway through the pandemic, what does this signify, do you think?

McGowan: Yeah, it was great to see the quality and safety of generic and biosimilar medicines was a top priority for our industry and a key theme of the meeting. So, I'd say this progress is motivating and moving in the right direction. The FDA has also promised to provide more clarity on the handling of the interchangeable designation, which I think everyone is really interested to gain some additional clarity and insight into that designation, as we see more and more products receive that designation in the future. It's also encouraging that the pharmacy benefit managers have been moving interchangeable biosimilars onto their preferred formularies like they've done with Semglee and that pharmacists in the retail space now get a chance to experience a biosimilar product. But overall, there's still a lot of basic education required about biosimilars to generate more confidence in their use across all stakeholders in the supply chain.

CfB: So, you have a terrific pipeline report on biosimilars, which is updated regularly. Can you tell us what we can look forward to in biosimilars in the insulin market in 2022?

McGowan: Yeah, sure. So, with 2 approved insulin glargine products, we'll see that market become more and more competitive once Lilly announces the launch timing of their insulin glargine that just recently received approval. We're seeing a product being developed by Sandoz that's currently in phase 3 trials. Last week, we saw an announcement that Biocon's application for its insulin aspart received a CRL [complete response letter] from the FDA but Biocon seemed to be confident that they're going to be able to provide the additional data that's required there. So, we'll see some additional markets either open up or expand in the near future.

We also have another insulin glargine from Lanett that's in the preclinical clinical trial stage. And so, we're expecting, at least based on what they've disclosed, that their clinical trials will start Q1 or Q2 in 2022. And then they're looking for FDA approval in 2023 and a potential launch in 2024.


Finally, there are about 5 rapid-acting insulin biosimilars currently in the pipeline for manufacturers including Biocon, Viatris, Sandoz, and Sanofi. And they're all in different clinical trial stages at this time, from preclinical to phase 3. So, I anticipate more of these insulin products to continue to be developed and hopefully approved and launched onto the US market in the coming years.

CfB: That's great for patients.

McGowan: Absolutely.

CfB: So, this year is shaping up to be a positioning race for adalimumab biosimilar market entry. They don't actually arrive until 2023 but what can you say about the positioning that's going on and how companies are looking to stand out in this market?

McGowan: Yeah, you're absolutely right. 2023 is going to be the year of the Humira biosimilars. And I think we're all anxiously waiting to see how this plays out. And it is going to be 1) very interesting and 2) I think a bit complicated with the number of manufacturers that are already set to launch products in 2023 [n = 7]. And then, how are they going to compete against the existing versions of Humira? So, as far as timing is concerned, Amgen will be first out of the gate with their product launching at the end of January 2023. And they're going to have about a 5-month head start over the next tranche of manufacturers that'll bring their Humira biosimilars to market. So, the next group will have Organon, [Boehringer Ingelheim], and Coherus launch their products in that middle summer timeframe, kind of end of June and early July. Then, we're going to see Viatris, Sandoz, and Pfizer launch their products between August and November in 2023. And then, we also know that Teva, in partnership with Alvotech in the development of that Humira biosimilar, is waiting for FDA approval, but launch timing is really unknown at this point.

CfB: As an aside for the Amgen now, Amgevita [adalimumab biosimilar] will have that 5-month head start. What do you think will be the lasting impact of that advantage?

McGowan: Right now, Amgen definitely is positioned to have the advantage from that timing standpoint and that head start over everybody else. Just a couple of things to take into consideration, you're absolutely right that 2023 is going to be an exciting year, but keep in mind these manufacturers are absolutely focused not only on 2023 but the several years to come after that. And so, 2023 is definitely going to be a year where the staging has taken place. Yeah, there's going to be a bit of an advantage for Amgen, and they're going to have a lot of critical decisions to make around pricing, PBM coverage, support services, patient and physician education, which is all going to have an impact on everybody else that comes after Amgen. So, I think a lot of things are going to play out, but we can't discount the fact that in the years 2024, 2025, and beyond are going to be years where these products are going to be competing. But 2023 is most certainly going to be probably the most exciting, just given the timing and the number of products that are going to come onto the market.

CfB: And 1 more question on the adalimumab pricing. What could be the effects on pricing of having so many competitors arrive on the market at the same time? Do you think that there will be a sudden drop, or do you think that given the settlements that they made with AbbVie [reference adalimumab manufacturer] that that is not going to occur?

McGowan: Yeah, that remains to be seen. I think the pricing piece is going to be interesting, just because they're going to be so many products out there and then you have this long history of AbbVie's pricing on this product. But I think a lot of the activity is going to be driven by the PBMs in which products they decide to adopt, put on their formularies, and switch patients over to. So, it's really going to be incumbent upon the manufacturers to be negotiating those deals with the with the PBMs and then which products are being adopted and which products are left off of formularies. So, at the end of the day, given that this is that pharmacy benefit space, I think the PBMs are going to play a very critical and influential role in the launch of these products.

CfB: Okay, so, etanercept has been a bit of a disappointment in terms of bringing biosimilars to market. The 2 contenders have not succeeded in breaking through the patent barriers on Enbrel [originator etanercept]. So, is there a possibility that other etanercept biosimilar makers will step forward?

McGowan: Yeah, this is certainly disappointing news for the biosimilar market, and it's been an ongoing legal battle across the last several years, especially with 2 FDA approved products out there. But the litigation rulings at this point seem to be pretty definitive. I don't foresee any manufacturers continuing to pick up the torch and continue the legal battle here, which, again, is unfortunate and it doesn't seem like we'll see an Enbrel biosimilar on the market in the US for the next several years.

CfB: In ophthalmology, ranibizumab has taken some interesting turns. Susvimo is a biobetter, some might say, and has an implant reservoir vs an injectable, which could offer great convenience to patients. Could this be a disruptor in the ranibizumab market and how could it affect biosimilar competition?

McGowan: Yeah, it’s a new market and molecule for the biosimilar markets, which is really exciting. So, it's going to be a very interesting market to watch evolve. Not only have we seen this implantable device launch onto the market, we also know that Roche/Genentech is developing their faricimab molecule, which will have retina-ophthalmology indications. So, we'll have to see how successful they will be at launching that product, which will have patents and exclusivities if and when it's approved, and then how successful they'll be in converting patients over to that product. We also have another organization and company with Outlook Therapeutics actually developing a bevacizumab product specifically for the retina-ophthalmology indications. So, that's going to be a little bit of a nuanced wrinkle and addition into an already complex and competitive market.


But on the biosimilar front, there's currently only 1 approved product from Biogen with Byooviz. And we're anticipating at least 3 other biosimilars referencing Lucentis to come onto the market in the next 2 to 3 years. So, Biogen is most certainly going to be the first product on the market in this space and what's been announced is a mid-2022 launch for that product. But it's going to be very interesting to see how the practitioners and the practices get educated on biosimilars, since they most likely have not utilized a biosimilar in the past, and how to build those into their care plans and adopt these products. Given the complexity and how heavily competitive this market is, given the innovator company's position, a new branded product coming to market, and then several biosimilars, it's going to be another very interesting market to watch evolve.

CfB: Yeah, affordability is a tremendous issue in ophthalmology. So, what else might move the needle in the biosimilar pipeline events in 2022?

McGowan: Looking ahead to calendar year 2022, I think there are a few opportunities and challenges to look for. So, going back to Semglee's launch and the availability of 2 versions, a branded and unbranded, we'll be watching closely as to how these products compete in the commercial market vs the Medicare/Medicaid or Part D plans. So, which version of the product is going to get adopted and how quickly can it grow and into what levels? And then what learnings can manufacturers glean from the strategy that Viatris has taken, and can they take those learnings and apply them to other biosimilar markets, and I think Humira is 1 specifically that jumps right to the front of my mind. So, can this type of strategy be replicated in other markets? In staying on the topic of Humira, the approval and the launch of Semglee will most certainly act as kind of a dress rehearsal for bigger biosimilar market entrance expected in the Part D space in 2023. So, having an interchangeable product and having a Part D product, a pharmacy benefit product, is most certainly going to provide a lot of learnings and education around how the pharmacists' handle these products, how the pharmacy benefit managers handle these products, how they're positioned on the formularies, and how that interchangeable designation is treated at the pharmacy counter.

And then there's some excitement in the medical benefits of the Part B space with the forthcoming launch of the first biosimilar in the retina-ophthalmology space in Byooviz, which references Lucentis and we've talked about just a minute ago. Again, that launch is expected to happen mid-year in 2022. 2022 is also going to be the year where everyone is preparing for the watershed moment of the 7 plus biosimilars referencing Humira coming onto the market starting in 2023. And with the 7 plus Humira biosimilars entering the retail and specialty pharmacy space, a whole new customer group and market will be introduced to biosimilars. So, again, kind of going back to my point earlier around the education piece and how this continues to be a critical element to improve the adoption of biosimilars, the aperture expands exponentially as these retail pharmacy and specialty pharmacy products come onto the market.

And then just some considerations for the biosimilar market moving forward. We'll continue to watch how manufacturers of innovative products respond to biosimilars. A great example, Janssen towards the end of 2021 launched an unbranded version of Remicade [originator infliximab] similar to how Semglee was launched both branded and unbranded. Now, we've got an innovator product in the Part B space with a branded and unbranded [version]. We'll most certainly make note of whether or not this strategy is successful and then whether or not other innovator companies adopt a similar strategy. We're also expecting to see a new set of manufacturers launch biosimilar products into existing markets, as well as new biosimilar markets like Biogen with their Lucentis biosimilar. Finally, existing biosimilar markets will become more competitive with new entrants. All of this is really great in my opinion because these manufacturers continue to see an opportunity for biosimilars, and patients will benefit from increased competition that helps improve access and affordability.

CfB: Terrific, Sean, thanks. Finally, the Build Back Better Act has been through a lot of drafts, and we don't know whether it's going to see the light of day. What are your thoughts on how this might affect biosimilars in the final version, if there is one?

McGowan: Yeah, that's a great question and I know a lot of focus on the Build Back Better Act was paid in the November timeframe before the legislators shut it down for the end of the year. We're going to be following this very closely to see what policies actually make it into the bill, in whatever way shape or form that happens. I think we all want to see policies that continue to support a market that allows for biosimilar competition, encourages manufacturers to invest in the space, and helps to bring down drug prices and the overall cost of care. Despite all the challenges and hurdles the biosimilar market has had to overcome across the last several years, biosimilars have most certainly delivered on their promise to expand access, drive down costs, and deliver on savings.

CfB: Thanks very much, Sean. It's great talking with you again about biosimilars at The Center for Biosimilars.

McGowan: You as well. Thanks.

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