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Challenges ahead for biosimilar development

Biosimilars, it seems are here to stay, but there is still some way to go before they become commonplace. There is also concern over the associated costs for biological medicines. The cost of biotech therapies is expected to steadily grow by about 30% (an approximately 20 fold increase in 10 years) by 2016.

How cheap will biosimilars need to be

What level of discounts will biosimilars need to provide to be competitive? Some believe that biosimilars will need to provide substantial discounts, being priced as low as 25%, and not 75%, of the originator price [1].

Biosimilar regulatory issues

In Europe, the regulatory frameworks for biosimilars are largely established, with both general guidelines and product specific guidelines put in place by the EMA, covering human insulin, somatropin, human growth hormone, erythropoietin, interferon-alpha, low molecular weight heparin and monoclonal antibody. The agency is also currently working on draft guidelines for a number of other product class specific guidelines, including interferon-beta and follicle stimulation hormone.

Manufacturing of biosimilars

Manufacturing of biosimilars is more challenging than the traditional small molecule generics. Some of the reasons are:

  • Investments (including operating costs) associated with manufacturing of biosimilars along with the risk of failure for biosimilars are significantly higher than that for small molecule generics. This results in a relatively smaller discount for biosimilars compared to small molecule generics.
  • Minor changes in manufacturing process can cause significant changes in efficacy or immunogenicity.
  • Biosimilars are larger and more complex molecules to manufacture.

Opportunities for biosimilars in emerging markets

By 2015, IMS Health expects spending on biosimilars to exceed US$2 billion annually, or about 1% of total global spending on biologicals [1]. This growth in biosimilars will be driven mainly by patent expiries coming in the next five years. However, due to the complexity and cost of developing biosimilars for western markets many biosimilar manufacturers are turning to emerging markets as being a much more cost-effective solution.

Doctors wary of using biosimilars for extrapolated indications

A report published on 24 August 2011 by research and advisory firm Decision Resources finds that the majority of US and European physicians are wary of using a biosimilar for an indication for which supporting clinical data are lacking.

Controversial nomenclature for new biosimilars

How will FDA chose to name biosimilars? The answer it appears is not simple and could greatly affect the marketing costs associated with these products [1].

A biosimilar by any other name …

Following the expiration of patents on the originator molecules, copied products have been introduced into the market. EU regulators have named these products as ‘biosimilars’, that is ‘similar biological medicinal products’; and US regulators refer to them as ‘follow-on biologics’. Specific regulatory pathways have also been established for these biosimilar products, which differ from those for ‘chemical generics’ [1].

The market for biosimilars

How do the different markets respond to biosimilars? Markets with strong generic adoption frameworks are likely to have good biosimilar adoption as well. However, physician willingness to adopt may be a barrier to entry [1].

EMA proposes more precise definition for biosimilars

Members of the Biosimilar Medicinal Products Working Party at the EMA expressed the need to propose a more precise definition for biosimilars due to problems arising from imprecise usage of the term biosimilar in the literature [1].