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Roche's 2020 Losses to Biosimilars Were "Worst It Can Get"


Biosimilar competition took a big chunk of revenue from Roche's aging blockbusters in 2020, and the company is banking on its newer medicines to drive fresh revenue growth.

Biosimilar competition took a $6.34 billion bite out of international revenues for Roche in 2020. It was the biggest decline so far attributable to biosimilar competition, according to Bill Anderson, CEO of Roche Pharmaceuticals. “I think we’ve seen the worst that it can get,” he said in an investor presentation. He anticipated a smaller-but-still-painful $5.1 billion biosimilar impact in 2021.

Roche faces accelerating biosimilar competition, particularly in the United States, for 3 of its aging blockbusters: Herceptin (trastuzumab), Avastin (bevacizumab), and Rituxan/MabThera (rituximab). For those products in just the United States, Japan, and European Union in 2020, biosimilar competition eroded $5.68 billion in revenue, Roche said.

The sales erosion for Roche is evidence of the power of biosimilars to capture market share despite the many barriers in the United States and internationally that prevent these drugs from challenging higher-priced originator products.

Biosimilar Blockbusters

A strong biosimilar portfolio can be the equivalent of a blockbuster product for a company with marketing power and reach. For example, in its 2020 earnings report, Amgen reported well over $1 billion in revenue from its bevacizumab (Mvasi, $798 million) and trastuzumab (Kanjinti, $567 million) biosimilars, along with $331 million in global revenue from its adalimumab biosimilar (Amgevita), which has become the most prescribed adalimumab biosimilar in Europe, with sales up 54% in 2020, according to Amgen.

Biosimilars are costly to develop and bring to market, and for that reason, they retail for significantly more than simple molecule generics. At the same time, discounts offered for the relatively few biosimilars on the market are significantly less than for generics, which affords biosimilar developers opportunity for enormous profit.

Roche’s 2020 results indicate that in the United States, Europe, Japan, and other countries, overall sales declines were 25% for Avastin, 31% for Rituxan/MabThera, and 34% for Herceptin.

Roche’s key revenue engines now comprise relatively new drugs, rather than bevacizumab, trastuzumab, and rituximab. At Roche, those latter products dipped from 40% of sales in 2019 to 29% of sales in 2020. The company’s new products category now represents 41% of sales vs 31% before. Overall, Roche was able to report a 1% increase in sales for the year.

The company identified Tecentriq (atezolizumab), Hemlibra (emicizumab), Ocrevus (ocrelizumab), and Actemra/RoActemra (tocilizumab) as several leading new products whose global sales advanced dramatically in 2020: 55%, 68%, 24%, and 32%, respectively.

Tocilizumab is for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis; ocrelizumab, multiple sclerosis; emicizumab, haemophilia A; and atezolizumab, various forms of cancer.

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