Exclusive Interview

'Invest, don't protest' ex-Teva CEO warns biosimilar detractors

By Dan Stanton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Molecule Pharmaceutical industry

Dr. Levin has joined the board of directors at Biocon
Dr. Levin has joined the board of directors at Biocon
Big biotech firms risk the empty pipeline pitfalls of old pharma if they protect their drugs from biosimilars rather than invest in innovation, ex-Teva CEO Jeremy Levin warns.

During his time as CEO and President of Teva, Dr. Levin helped bring small molecule generic drugs to billions over the globe. In his new role as an independent Director of the Board at Biocon, he spoke to Biopharma-Reporter.com about how he hopes his time at Teva – as well as BMS and Novartis - will help provide a bridge between the Indian firm and the global biopharma industry.

“Biocon doesn’t resemble Teva,”​ he told us, but rather “is a company focused on innovative production of complex molecules,” ​including statins, insulins, injectables, and monoclonal antibodies.

Biocon does, however, have some crossover with the Israeli generics firm in pursuing a biosimilars programme, having already seen success in bringing a cut-price version of Roche’s Herceptin​ to market in India, and Levin is hoping to bring his experience to the firm surrounding the “inevitable”​ opening up of the biosimilar market, not just in India and China, but also in the US.

“The question is not who’s going to get to market first like with other generic strategies, but who has a better molecule? Whose molecule is going to cause less side-effects and who can prove that? Which molecule is going to be priced appropriately?  Which of the provider in the US are going to be willing to pay for which molecule?”

While knowledge of regulatory pathways, commercial and pricing models are critical, “it is absolutely vital that the industry appreciate that the Hatch-Waxman provisions for patent protection are not a license for perpetual sales of a biologic,” ​he explained.

“Exceptional molecules that are parallel and identical to the originator molecule – or better – must come to the market place and those companies who oppose it face a huge, huge difficulty and would be better placed in putting their investment in new innovations rather than protecting perpetual franchises based on the belief that they have a sole biologic.”

Old Pharma failings

Big biotech must not “allow itself to follow these lessons from the pharmaceutical industry of the past,”​ Levin warned, describing how small molecule pharma companies lost out to generic competition by attempting to protect patents at the expense of investing their money in R&D.

“In old pharma, the great failure of the industry was that they perpetually protected old molecules because these molecules were generating revenues and profits. That led in the 80s and 90s to a near complete failure of these companies to develop and maintain their pipelines.”

He continued: “Old pharma showed biotech exactly how not to do it. While it’s easy to rest on one’s laurels and reap the benefit of work done years ago, it is much more important for patients and for the industry to invest in the future and in innovation so you can be prepared to seize the opportunity for something new – something that can help cure the disease”

Indian Innovation

It a continual desire to innovate which sets Biocon apart from not only proprietary biologics firms and generic drugmakers, but also from other companies in India, he added.

“These other companies are at risk of being perceived as simply low-cost providers not high value providers but what Biocon has put in place is the structure and people to begin the important journey from providing service to providing substance and innovation.”

“Biocon is a highly innovative company founded in India,” ​he continued. “Unlike the US where there are a plethora of innovative companies, the challenges and interest and capabilities of Biocon are quite different: where a tremendous amount of medical value can be brought and be established to both the billions in SE Asia and around the world.”

Bringing medicine to billions

Sun Pharma, a large Indian generics firm, has also reached out to an ex-Teva CEO, installing Israel Makov as its Chairman.

“Israel and I are very good friends,” said Levin. “We have discussed the importance of how we bring affordable medicines around the world. Philosophically I would say there is an alignment of thinking [as both of us were at Teva].

“Both of us have been schooled into how to bring medicines to billions. India has different platforms – in the case of Biocon, innovations, in the case of Sun, generics.”

Besides providing industry insight on Biocon’s board, Levin is Chairman of Ovid Therapeutics, an extremely private company based in New york, backed by significant private equity funds and focused on neurology.

Levin is set to disclose more about the company in the next few weeks but for now told us: “I regard it as one of the most exciting companies that I have seen in many years, and it is a privilege to be its chairman.”

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