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Keeping an Eye on Increasing Competition in the Specialty Drug Pipeline

Christina Mattina
Aimee Tharaldson, PharmD, senior clinical consultant in emerging therapeutics for Express Scripts, presented her look at the development pipeline to a crowded room at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy Annual Meeting, held March 25-28 in San Diego, California.
With all of the changes in the pharmaceutical development landscape from year to year, there is at least 1 constant: Aimee Tharaldson, PharmD, will be on hand to make sense of the specialty drug pipeline and its implications for the managed care market. As she does every year, Tharaldson, senior clinical consultant in emerging therapeutics for Express Scripts, presented her look at the development pipeline to a crowded room at the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy Annual Meeting, held March 25-28 in San Diego, California.

She explained that her assessment of the specialty drug pipeline could be distilled into 3 broad themes: increased competition, cancer drug development, and orphan drug development.

More competition will result in more opportunities for cost savings, said Tharaldson, with many specialty drugs going generic in the next few years and biosimilar approvals increasing. About $24 billion in opportunity lies within the group of specialty drugs that have upcoming generics through 2023, compared with $14 billion in the 2015-2018 period.

In the biosimilar landscape, she noted that, although 18 have been approved, 7 are still pending a launch, mostly due to patent litigation. These biosimilars often have limited indications compared with the reference drugs because some of the originators’ indications are still protected by orphan drug exclusivity. The impact of legal hurdles is exemplified by the uncertainty around the launch of the etanercept biosimilar Erenzi. If a court rules in favor of the biosimilar’s maker, Sandoz, it could hit the market as soon as this year; if Amgen, which makes the reference Enbrel, succeeds, the biosimilar’s entry could be delayed until 2028 or 2029.

Even though some biosimilars have struggled to capture market share, Tharaldson foresees significant cost savings opportunities in the coming years, especially with 8 biosimilars pending approval this year and new FDA policies encouraging biosimilar development and providing more clarity around naming conventions.

Relating to the second trend of cancer drug development, Tharaldson noted that, despite the FDA approving a record 17 new cancer drugs in 2018, there hasn’t been a subsequent reduction in cost—many of these drugs launch at around $150,000 per year.

Orphan drug development represents a particularly lucrative segment, as the costs of these drugs are 5 times those of other drugs; 30% are considered “blockbusters,” indicating more than $1 billion in sales. In the specialty pharmacy pipeline, 53% of drugs are for orphan diseases.

In terms of the 4 specialty drug approvals so far this year, Tharaldson said 2019 was off to a “slow start” but that the drug mechanisms and disease states covered by these approvals represent promising strides in areas without many alternatives. For example, brexanolone (Zulresso) treats severe postpartum depression, which affects 11% of new mothers, and starts working within 48 hours compared with oral antidepressants that may take weeks to show effects. The breakthrough therapy esketamine for treatment-resistant depression is related to the illegal party drug ketamine, so its distribution and use will be monitored carefully, but it could help reach the large market of about 5 million patients who don’t respond to depression treatments.



 
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