Biosimilars to the Rescue?

By Tim Wright, Editor | May 5, 2016

Will the new wave of “generic” biologics help curb soaring drug prices?

Drug pricing is one of the hot topics in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and the burden of high drug costs not just to patients but to the entire healthcare system may be the one thing both Republican and Democrats actually agree on that needs fixing.

At the same time that drug prices have soared over the past decade, the growth of biologics, which include many of the specialty, high-cost drugs used today to treat chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes, has been a dominant theme in the pharmaceutical industry. On average, biologic drugs are about 20 times more expensive than traditional drugs, and it is expected that biologics will account for roughly 50% of U.S. prescription drug expenditures by 2018.

IMS Health data says global biologic sales increased from about $45 billion in 2002 to $160 billion in 2012 with expected sales in 2017 of $221 billion—20% of total global pharmaceuticals sales.

However, with the emergence of biosimilars on the scene representing a new wave of drugs, these “generic” versions of expensive branded specialty biologic drugs may be part of a solution to bring overall drug costs down and help alleviate the pressure on the U.S. healthcare system.

In an article he penned for Inside Sources, Amit Munshi, the president and chief executive officer of Epirus Biopharmaceuticals, a Boston company focused on the global development and commercialization of biosimilar monoclonal antibodies, said the rising use of biologic drugs in the U.S. more so than in other parts of the world and, lack of approved biosimilars, are key contributing factors to escalating drug prices. He said:

“According to ExpressScripts, only about 2 percent of the population takes biologic drugs. Yet, the cost of biologic drugs accounts for roughly 40 percent of total prescription drug spending in the United States. The obvious challenge is how to slow this freight train without derailing the incentives to innovate that have nourished the biologics revolution.”

Global sales of biosimilar drugs are expected to rise from $2.5 billion in 2014 to $26.5 billion by 2020. According to various estimates, healthcare savings from the use of biosimilars range from $25 billion to $250 billion over the period 2014-2024. Biosimilars market projections predict that 50% of the biologics market will belong to off-patent drugs, creating a huge market potential.

With the election year in full swing and candidates on both sides of the fence publicly demanding lower drug prices, can biosimilars help carve a path towards achieving that goal?

Tim Wright, Editor