Depending on the outcome, 3 major biosimilar antitrust actions, as well as a related Federal Trade Commission investigation, could significantly change how biologics are priced.
There are 3 major antitrust actions on the biosimilar scene still pending. These have a long way to go before any court resolution, unless the parties involved settle before then. One is a class-action lawsuit attacking the use of patent thickets and pay-for-delay tactics. The other is a claim alleging anticompetitive contract practices to retain market share for an originator product. Related to the latter, an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) remains in progress.
Humira (adalimumab) antitrust litigation (1:19-cv-01873)
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500 filed a class-action lawsuit against AbbVie, the holder of patents for its blockbuster drug Humira, claiming a monopoly had been created by AbbVie via its use of patent thickets and pay-for-delay tactics to block less-expensive biosimilars of adalimumab and raise prices for indirect purchasers. One of the main allegations is that AbbVie amassed more than 100 patents to prevent biosimilar versions of Humira from reaching market before 2023. Another main argument is that AbbVie colluded with biosimilar makers by using financial inducements to delay the launching of competitors in the United States while allowing them in Europe. AbbVie denies using these tactics to create a monopoly and contends that the lawsuit threatens to “upend the well-settled balance between the patent and antitrust laws.” This case is ongoing.
Pfizer versus Johnson & Johnson (J&J; 2:17-cv-04180)
Pfizer, the maker of the biosimilar Inflectra (infliximab), has sued J&J for alleged anticompetitive sales practices in regard to the infliximab reference product (Remicade). J&J is accused of using exclusionary contracts to keep the biosimilar out of the market. These contracts allegedly “led to the near total foreclosure of Inflectra and other infliximab biosimilars.” Bundling Remicade with other drugs in these contracts for hospitals and infusion centers was also done in order to retain market control, Pfizer alleges. Rebate penalties for payers and providers are also alleged. This case is in the discovery phase and will be well into 2020.
Walgreens/Kroger versus Johnson & Johnson
Walgreens and Kroger sued J&J in 2018 for antitrust regarding its contracts with wholesale distributers purchasing Remicade which inflated its price. The case was dismissed for lack of standing or insufficient connection to and harm from the action challenged. Walgreens and Kroger appealed to the Third Circuit stating that the lower court was wrong in dismissing the case because of anti-assignment provisions between the wholesaler and the plaintiffs. The Third Circuit overturned the lower court ruling stating that the case could go forward in spite of the clause because the claim arises out of federal anti-trust law and not the contract itself. This case will now go back to the lower courts and start over from scratch. More cases like this could arise as distribution contract anti-assignment clauses are common and may have prevented many from suing in the past.
FTC Civil Investigation
The FTC issued a Civil Investigative Demand (CID) to J&J regarding its contracting practices for Remicade, meaning it is investigating J&J’s contracting practices with respect to the reference product. Although the CID was issued in June 2019, J&J has yet to comment on the investigation. Because the inquiry is in its early phase, it remains unclear whether the FTC will lodge an antitrust suit against J&J. They would need to determine if bundling deals and the rebate practices involved constitute antitrust practices.
All of this litigation may take years to resolve. If the court judgements do not come down in favor of the product originators, the cases could significantly change how biologics are priced, by either eliminating rebates or forcing payers to place both biosimilar and originator products on formularies.