Drug price war on the horizon between global pharmaceutical giants

by Leo Almazora24 Oct 2016
According to a report on the Financial Times, Johnson & Johnson has announced plans to discount its top-selling arthritis drug in response to the introduction of a cheaper version.

“We’re ready to compete in every channel, trying to bring patients the most affordable option in every situation,” said Joaquin Duato, J&J’s worldwide chairman of pharmaceuticals, a day after Pfizer announced the sale of a copycat of Remicade starting next month.

J&J’s top-selling medicine, Remicade is an anti-inflammatory drug for rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions. In the first nine months of this year alone, it has generated US$5.3 billion in sales.

The drug already faces challenges from biosimilars overseas, but Pfizer is the first drug manufacturer to encroach into the US market, which accounts for more than two-thirds of sales.

The pharmaceuticals industry has struggled for decades because of lapsing patent protections on top-selling drugs.

Biosimilars present a new threat: many of the successful medicines in the current market are derived from living cells, which makes them harder to duplicate than fully synthesized, small-molecule drugs. However, regulators have become increasingly comfortable with biosimilars that are almost the same as the original product. That means competitors have a chance to launch alternatives without waiting for patents to lapse.

Pfizer’s drug, Inflectra, will go on sale with a listed price of US$946.28 a vial, 15% less expensive than Remicade. Still, either drug will almost certainly have a much lower negotiated price as both companies attempt to woo insurers and pharmacy benefit managers with big discounts in a bid to increase their market share.

Duato said that 70% of patients have found stability with Remicade, and were therefore unlikely to switch. “But we also plan to compete for the other 30 per cent, and an element of that is price,” he added, citing plans to employ methods such as “innovative contracting” and financial assistance to patients who cannot afford the drug.

The firm has also fended off challenges from biosimilars in other markets, retaining a market share of more than 90% in countries such as Brazil, Canada, and Australia. Nevertheless, J&J has said it would continue to fight the introduction of Inflectra in the courts on the grounds that Pfizer is infringing its patents.

Certain drugmakers, including Pfizer and the biotech giant Amgen, have hedged against possible challenges by setting up their own biosimilar businesses. However, Duato said that J&J has no plans to do the same.

“We have decided to focus exclusively on R&D-based innovation that can make a difference and alleviate suffering,” he said.

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