Looming biosimilar competition to Johnson & Johnson's top-selling drug Remicade dominated discussion on its third-quarter results call, but the company thinks the impact in 2017 will be small.
Pfizer announced this week it plans to launch its Inflectra biosimilar of arthritis treatment Remicade (infliximab) next month, trying to grab a piece of the brand's $5.3bn in sales in the first nine months of the year - two thirds of which came from the US.
J&J's chief financial officer Dominic Caruso told investors yesterday that he believes the biosimilar will launch at risk, as the appeals process in a patent dispute over the drug is still ongoing. Either way, it will have a tough time undercutting its rivals in the US market thanks to a high level of discounting already evident among drugs in the crowded anti-TNF segment.
Inflectra will launch at a 15% discount to Remicade, but average selling price of J&J's drug is already "significantly lower than the list price," he said. Of course, Inflectra is also likely to be discounted from its $946.28-per-vial list price after negotiations with health insurers and other payers.
J&J danced around the issue of competing on price, but pharma chief Joaquin Duato intimated that "innovative contracting" and its patient assistance programmes meant it is "ready to compete in every channel trying to bring patients the most affordable option in every situation".
Caruso added that with no biosimilar approved for interchangeability, Remicade's "significant long-term safety data, a strong advocacy from patients and clear physician preference" means that the 70% of patients who are stable on the drug are unlikely to switch.
In other markets such as Canada, Australia and Brazil where biosimilar versions of Remicade are already available, the brand has retained a market share above 90%, he pointed out.
In Europe - where Remicade is marketed by MSD - the product has been facing direct competition since biosimilar versions were launched in 2014/2015 however, and last year, MSD reported sales of the drug fell 24% to $1.8bn as competition drove down pricing.
The comments came as J&J reported a 9% increase in third-quarter pharma sales to $8.4bn, driven by cancer drugs Imbruvica (ibrutinib) and Darzalex (daratumumab) as well as oral anticoagulant Xarelto (rivaroxaban).
Chief executive Alex Gorsky also said the company was confident that its pipeline would deliver "10 new pharmaceutical products between 2015 and 2019, each with revenue potential over $1bn," which if fulfilled should offset any declining Remicade business.