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UnitedHealthcare to preferentially cover Amgen’s anticancer biosimilars Posted 20/09/2019

The largest insurer in the US, UnitedHealthcare, has announced it will preferentially cover Amgen’s biosimilar cancer treatments from 1 October 2019.

UnitedHealthcare announced in its August 2019 network bulletin that it will preferentially cover Amgen’s biosimilars for bevacizumab and trastuzumab. The preferential cover will begin from 1 October 2019 for both commercial and community plans.

Bevacizumab (marketed as Mvasi by Amgen) is administered by slow injection for the treatment of colon cancer, lung cancer, glioblastomas and renal cell carcinoma.

Trastuzumab (Kanjinti) meanwhile is used for the treatment of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-positive breast cancer. HER2 is overexpressed in some forms of breast cancer, where it plays an important role in progression. Trastuzumab targets this receptor to slow progression of the disease and can be used to treat approximately 30% of patients.

These drugs have previously been marketed as Avastin and Herceptin, respectively, by Roche.

Mvasi and Kanjinti were launched by Amgen in July 2019, at prices 15% below those of Roche. They are the first anticancer biosimilars to have launched on the US biosimilars market (although several others have gained US Food and Drug Administration approval).

Roche had attempted to block Amgen from launching the copycat drugs but failed to win a court injunction. Sales for Herceptin, Avastin and Rituxan (rituximab) earned Roche almost US$21 billion in 2018, around half of which originated from the US market.

This news, combined with the early launch of these products, will help Amgen to gain market share against competitors such as Mylan and Pfizer.

A UnitedHealthcare spokesperson commented: ‘UnitedHealthcare evaluates each brand name biologic and its biosimilar one-by-one and makes a coverage decision based on the lowest cost product in order to deliver lower costs to our members, clients and consumers’.

Other changes from 1 October 2019 include preferential coverage of Sandoz’s filgrastim biosimilar Zarxio, which is used to stimulate white blood cells during chemotherapy or in chronic infection such as HIV. Zarxio will be preferred over Amgen’s branded filgrastim (Neupogen) and Pfizer’s biosimilar product (Nivestym).

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Source: Amgen, UnitedHealthcare