New Influx of Humira Biosimilars May Not Drive Immediate Change

Gastroenterologists in 2023 will have more tools in their arsenal to treat patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. As many as 8-10 adalimumab biosimilars are anticipated to come on the market this year, giving mainstay drug Humira some vigorous competition.

Dr Edward Oldfield

Three scenarios will drive adalimumab biosimilar initiation: Insurance preference for the initial treatment of a newly diagnosed condition, a change in a patient’s insurance plan, or an insurance-mandated switch, said Edward C. Oldfield IV, MD, assistant professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School’s division of gastroenterology in Norfolk.

Even with more drugs to choose from, some gastroenterologists may be hesitant to make a switch. “Outside of these scenarios, I would encourage patients to remain on their current biologic so long as cost and accessibility remain stable,” said Dr. Oldfield.

Steven Newmark

Many factors will contribute to the success of biosimilars. Will physicians be prescribing them? How are biosimilars placed on formularies and will they be given preferred status? How will manufacturers price their biosimilars? “We have to wait and see to get the answers to these questions,” said Steven Newmark, JD, MPA, chief legal officer and director of policy, Global Healthy Living Foundation/CreakyJoints, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in New York.

Prescribing biosimilars is no different than prescribing originator biologics, so providers should know how to use them, said Mr. Newmark. “Most important will be the availability of patient-friendly resources that providers can share with their patients to provide education about and confidence in using biosimilars,” he added.

Overall, biosimilars are a good thing, said Dr. Oldfield. “In the long run they should bring down costs and increase access to medications for our patients.”

Others are skeptical that the adalimumab biosimilars will save patients much money.

Biosimilar laws were created to lower costs. However, if a patient with insurance pays only $5 a month out of pocket for Humira — a drug that normally costs $7,000 without coverage — it’s unlikely they would want to switch unless there’s comparable savings from the biosimilar, said Stephen B. Hanauer, MD, medical director of the Digestive Health Center and professor of medicine at Northwestern Medicine, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.

Like generics, Humira biosimilars may face some initial backlash, said Dr. Hanauer.

2023 broadens scope of adalimumab treatments

The American Gastroenterological Association describes a biosimilar as something that’s “highly similar to, but not an exact copy of, a biologic reference product already approved” by the Food and Drug Administration. Congress under the 2010 Affordable Care Act created a special, abbreviated pathway to approval for biosimilars.

AbbVie’s Humira, the global revenue for which exceeded $20 billion in 2021, has long dominated the U.S. market on injectable treatments for autoimmune diseases. The popular drug faces some competition in 2023, however, following a series of legal settlements that allowed AbbVie competitors to release their own adalimumab biosimilars.

“So far, we haven’t seen biosimilars live up to their potential in the U.S. in the inflammatory space,” said Mr. Newmark. This may change, however. Previously, biosimilars have required infusion, which demanded more time, commitment, and travel from patients. “The new set of forthcoming Humira biosimilars are injectables, an administration method preferred by patients,” he said.

The FDA will approve a biosimilar if it determines that the biological product is highly similar to the reference product, and that there are no clinically meaningful differences between the biological and reference product in terms of the safety, purity, and potency of the product.

The agency to date has approved 8 adalimumab biosimilars. These include: Idacio (adalimumab-aacf, Fresenius Kabi); Amjevita (adalimumab-atto, Amgen); Hadlima (adalimumab-bwwd, Organon); Cyltezo (adalimumab-adbm, Boehringer Ingelheim); Yusimry (adalimumab-aqvh from Coherus BioSciences); Hulio (adalimumab-fkjp; Mylan/Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin Biologics); Hyrimoz (adalimumab-adaz, Sandoz), and Abrilada (adalimumab-afzb, Pfizer).

“While FDA doesn’t formally track when products come to market, we know based on published reports that application holders for many of the currently FDA-approved biosimilars plan to market this year, starting with Amjevita being the first adalimumab biosimilar launched” in January, said Sarah Yim, MD, director of the Office of Therapeutic Biologics and Biosimilars at the agency.

At press time, two other companies (Celltrion and Alvotech/Teva) were awaiting FDA approval for their adalimumab biosimilar drugs.

Among the eight approved drugs, Cyltezo is the only one that has a designation for interchangeability with Humira.

An interchangeable biosimilar may be substituted at the pharmacy without the intervention of the prescriber — much like generics are substituted, depending on state laws, said Dr. Yim. “However, in terms of safety and effectiveness, FDA’s standards for approval mean that biosimilar or interchangeable biosimilar products can be used in place of the reference product they were compared to.”

FDA-approved biosimilars undergo a rigorous evaluation for safety, effectiveness, and quality for their approved conditions of use, she continued. “Therefore, patients and health care providers can rely on a biosimilar to be as safe and effective for its approved uses as the original biological product.”

Remicade as a yard stick

Gastroenterologists dealt with this situation once before, when Remicade (infliximab) biosimilars came on the market in 2016, noted Miguel Regueiro, MD, chair of the Digestive Disease and Surgery Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.

Dr Miguel Regueiro

Remicade and Humira are both tumor necrosis factor inhibitors with the same mechanism of action and many of the same indications. “We already had that experience with Remicade and biosimilar switch 2 or 3 years ago. Now we’re talking about Humira,” said Dr. Regueiro.

Most GI doctors have prescribed one of the more common infliximab biosimilars (Inflectra or Renflexis), noted Dr. Oldfield.

Cardinal Health, which recently surveyed 300 gastroenterologists, rheumatologists, and dermatologists about adalimumab biosimilars, found that gastroenterologists had the highest comfort level in prescribing them. Their top concern, however, was changing a patient from adalimumab to an adalimumab biosimilar.

For most patients, Dr. Oldfield sees the Humira reference biologic and biosimilar as equivalent.

However, he said he would change a patient’s drug only if there were a good reason or if his hand was forced by insurance. He would not make the change for a patient who recently began induction with the reference biologic or a patient with highly active clinical disease.

“While there is limited data to support this, I would also have some qualms about changing a patient from reference biologic to a biosimilar if they previously had immune-mediated pharmacokinetic failure due to antibody development with a biologic and were currently doing well on their new biologic,” he said.

Those with a new ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s diagnosis who are initiating a biologic for the first time might consider a biosimilar. If a patient is transitioning from a reference biologic to a biosimilar, “I would want to make that change during a time of stable remission and with the recognition that the switch is not a temporary switch, but a long-term switch,” he continued.

A paper that reviewed 23 observational studies of adalimumab and other biosimilars found that switching biosimilars was safe and effective. But if possible, patients should minimize the number of switches until more robust long-term data are available, added Dr. Oldfield.

If a patient is apprehensive about switching to a new therapy, “one may need to be cognizant of the ‘nocebo’ effect in which there is an unexplained or unfavorable therapeutic effect after switching,” he said.

Other gastroenterologists voiced similar reservations about switching. “I won’t use an adalimumab biosimilar unless the patient requests it, the insurance requires it, or there is a cost advantage for the patient such that they prefer it,” said Doug Wolf, MD, an Atlanta gastroenterologist.

“There is no medical treatment advantage to a biosimilar, especially if switching from Humira,” added Dr. Wolf.

Insurance will guide treatment

Once a drug is approved for use by the FDA, that drug will be available in all 50 states. “Different private insurance formularies, as well as state Medicaid formularies, might affect the actual ability of patients to receive such drugs,” said Mr. Newmark.

Patients should consult with their providers and insurance companies to see what therapies are available, he advised.

Dr. Hanauer anticipates some headaches arising for patients and doctors alike when negotiating for a specific drug.

Cyltezo may be the only biosimilar interchangeable with Humira, but the third-party pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) could negotiate for one of the noninterchangeable ones. “On a yearly basis they could switch their preference,” said Dr. Hanauer.

In the Cardinal Health survey, more than 60% of respondents said they would feel comfortable prescribing an adalimumab biosimilar only with an interchangeability designation.

A PBM may offer a patient Cyltezo if it’s cheaper than Humira. If the patient insists on staying on Humira, then they’ll have to pay more for that drug on their payer’s formulary, said Dr. Hanauer. In a worst-case scenario, a physician may have to appeal on a patient’s behalf to get Humira if the insurer offers only the biosimilar.

Taking that step to appeal is a major hassle for the physician, and leads to extra back door costs as well, said Dr. Hanauer.

Humira manufacturer AbbVie, in turn, may offer discounts and rebates to the PBMs to put Humira on their formulary. “That’s the AbbVie negotiating power. It’s not that the cost is going to be that much different. It’s going to be that there are rebates and discounts that are going to make the cost different,” he added.

As a community physician, Dr. Oldfield has specific concerns about accessibility.

The ever-increasing burden of insurance documentation and prior authorization means it can take weeks or months to get these medications approved. “The addition of new biosimilars is a welcome entrance if it can get patients the medications they need when they need it,” he said.

When it comes to prescribing biologics, many physicians rely on ancillary staff for assistance. It’s a team effort to sift through all the paperwork, observed Dr. Oldfield.

“While many community GI practices have specialized staff to deal with prior authorizations, they are still a far cry from the IBD [inflammatory bowel disease] academic centers where there are often pharmacists, nursing specialists, and home-monitoring programs to check in on patients,” he explained.

Landscape on cost is uncertain

At present, little is known about the cost of the biosimilars and impact on future drug pricing, said Dr. Oldfield.

At least for Medicare, Humira biosimilars will be considered Medicare Part D drugs if used for a medically accepted indication, said a spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Part D sponsors (pharmacy and therapeutic committees) “will make the determination as to whether Amjevita and other products will be added to their formularies,” said the spokesperson.

Patients never saw a significant cost savings with Remicade biosimilars. “I imagine the same would be true with biosimilars for Humira,” said Dr. Regueiro. Patients may see greater access to these drugs, however, because the insurance plan or the pharmacy plan will make them more readily available, he added.

The hope is that, as biosimilars are introduced, the price of the originator biologic will go down, said Mr. Newmark. “Therefore, we can expect Humira to be offered at a lower price as it faces competition. Where it will sit in comparison to the forthcoming biosimilars will depend on how much biosimilar companies drop their price and how much pressure will be on PBMs and insurers to cover the lowest list price drug,” he said.

AbbVie did not respond to several requests for comment.

Charitable patient assistance programs for biosimilars or biologics can help offset the price of copayments, Mr. Newmark offered.

Ideally, insurers will offer designated biosimilars at a reduced or even no out-of-pocket expense on their formularies. This should lead to a decreased administrative burden for approval with streamlined (or even removal) of prior authorizations for certain medications, said Dr. Oldfield.

Without insurance or medication assistance programs, the cost of biosimilars is prohibitively expensive, he added.

“Biosimilars have higher research, development, and manufacturing costs than what people conventionally think of [for] a generic medication.”

Educating, advising patients

Dr. Oldfield advised that gastroenterologists refer to biologics by the generic name rather than branded name when initiating therapy unless there is a very specific reason not to. “This approach should make the process more streamlined and less subjected to quick denials for brand-only requests as biosimilars start to assume a larger market share,” he said.

Uptake of the Humira biosimilars also will depend on proper education of physicians and patients and their comfort level with the biosimilars, said Dr. Regueiro. Cleveland Clinic uses a team approach to educate on this topic, relying on pharmacists, clinicians, and nurses to explain that there’s no real difference between the reference drug and its biosimilars, based on efficacy and safety data.

Physicians can also direct patients to patient-friendly resources, said Mr. Newmark. “By starting the conversation early, it ensures that when/if the time comes that your patient is switched to or chooses a biosimilar they will feel more confident because they have the knowledge to make decisions about their care.”

The Global Healthy Living Foundation’s podcast, Breaking Down Biosimilars, is a free resource for patients, he added.

It’s important that doctors also understand these products so they can explain to their patients what to expect, said the FDA’s Dr. Yim. The FDA provides educational materials on its website, including a comprehensive curriculum toolkit.

Dr. Hanauer has served as a consultant for AbbVie, Amgen, American College of Gastroenterology, GlaxoSmithKline, American Gastroenterological Association, Pfizer, and a host of other companies. Dr. Regueiro has served on advisory boards and as a consultant for AbbVie, Janssen, UCB, Takeda, Pfizer, BMS, Organon, Amgen, Genentech, Gilead, Salix, Prometheus, Lilly, Celgene, TARGET Pharma Solutions, Trellis, and Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals. Dr. Wolf, Dr. Yim, Dr. Oldfield, and Mr. Newmark have no financial conflicts of interest.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

Source: Read Full Article