German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim has made a major move in the biosimilar market by introducing an unbranded version of its biosimilar for AbbVie’s blockbuster rheumatoid arthritis drug, Humira. This new biosimilar offering comes at a list price that is a remarkable 81% lower than the cost of the original Humira.
To provide some context, in July, Boehringer Ingelheim launched a branded biosimilar known as Cyltezo, which was priced at a 5% discount compared to Humira’s current list price of $6,922 per month. What sets Boehringer’s biosimilars apart is that they have been designated as interchangeable by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, meaning they can be substituted for the original Humira without requiring consultation with the prescribing healthcare provider.
The biosimilar market for Humira has been rapidly expanding in the United States, with eight Humira biosimilars introduced by various pharmaceutical companies in the same year. These include Novartis’ subsidiary Sandoz and Amgen. Many of these companies are actively seeking interchangeability status from the FDA to enhance their competitive positioning against both Humira and Boehringer’s Cyltezo.
It’s important to note that, until recently, Humira held the distinction of being the world’s highest-selling prescription drug, with impressive sales figures of $21.2 billion in 2022. However, unlike conventional, easily reproducible pills that can be copied and sold as generics once their patents expire, complex biologic medicines, which are derived from living cells, cannot be exactly duplicated. Instead, similar alternatives to these complex biologics are termed “biosimilars.”
Boehringer’s Executive Stephen Pagnotta explained the rationale behind their dual pricing approach, stating that the company aims to make a more affordable version of Cyltezo accessible to pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). PBMs are constantly seeking cost-effective Humira biosimilars to include in their formulary. Additionally, this approach is aimed at healthcare systems that act as both insurers and healthcare providers and generally do not pursue post-market discounts.
Boehringer Ingelheim’s introduction of a cost-effective, unbranded biosimilar for Humira, along with its existing interchangeable biosimilar offering, is a strategic move to tap into the competitive biosimilar market and provide more affordable options for patients, payers, and healthcare systems. This not only offers more choices for patients but also demonstrates the increasing momentum in the biosimilar market, which has the potential to significantly impact healthcare costs and access to vital medications.