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Pfizer believes a dose of confidence will help it sell biosimilars
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As drug prices climb and expensive newcomers inspire payers to get creative to contain costs, a window is widening for meds that can drive efficiency for healthcare systems and address consumers’ needs. That’s where biosimilars come in–or so Pfizer ($PFE) figures.

The company is looking to cash in on a biosimilars trend it hopes will score big sales once the copycat drugs hit the U.S. market, with 5 monoclonal antibodies under development. Unsurprisingly, they’re modeled after some of the world’s top-selling drugs; Pfizer’s biosimilars for Roche ($RHHBY) and Biogen Idec’s ($BIIB) MabThera/Rituxan, Roche’s Herceptin, and Johnson & Johnson/Merck’s ($MRK) Remicade are all in Phase III development, while its biosimilar copycat to Roche’s Avastin recently completed a Phase I trial and its version of AbbVie’s ($ABBV) $11-billion-a-year seller Humira is in the early testing stages.

As Diem Nguyen, general manager of Pfizer Biosimilars, toldFiercePharmaMarketing in an email, Pfizer has the wherewithal and R&D know-how to develop biosimilars, and the company is “actively engaging” with local markets to support patient safety and access, Nguyen said.

“By leveraging Pfizer’s therapeutic area expertise, advanced R&D capabilities, technology, manufacturing capability and geographic reach, the company aims to meet the needs of our patients and stakeholders, who are seeking a wide array of therapeutic choices,” she said.

But “long-term success of biosimilars will depend on … instilling confidence in their use by physicians and patients,” Nguyen said, and that’s where successful marketing will be key. To that end, Pfizer recently launched a website to provide background on its biosimilar drugs and to illustrate R&D and manufacturing for the treatments, Nguyen told FiercePharmaMarketing.

Rolling out new biosimilars could mean big things for Pfizer, as the company homes in on a market estimated to grow to $35 billion by 2020, according to a study from Allied Marketing Research. Top biologics are set to fall off the patent cliff, and pharma giants like Novartis ($NVS) and Hospira ($HSP) are taking advantage of the opportunity. In July, Novartis became the first drugmaker to submit an application for a biosimilar to the FDA. And while regulatory pressures and public response could put a damper on biosimilars’ success in the short term, the long-term payoff will be huge, Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez told Reuters earlier this year.

“By the year 2020, which is just 5 years from now, you’re going to see a big impact,” he said.

Meanwhile, drugmakers are exploring emerging markets as a potential space for biosimilar growth. Earlier this week, Boston-based biosimilar maker Epirus Biopharmaceuticals ($EPRS) launched a copy of Johnson & Johnson’s ($JNJ) rheumatoid arthritis drug Remicade in India with partner Ranbaxy Laboratories. The drug will hit the market a quarter ahead of schedule and will be available to Indian patients at a significant discount.

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