In recent years, biosimilar rivals to Johnson & Johnson drugs, such as chronic kidney disease therapy Procrit (epoetin alfa) and autoimmune blockbuster Remicade (infliximab), have won approval.
The impact of the competition was expected to grow significantly in 2019 but, as J&J chief financial officer Joseph Wolk said on a recent conference call with investors, the products exited the year in a stronger-than-expected position.
Wolk said, “As we would have sat here last year, we expected a bigger impact in 2019 from the loss of exclusivity and generic and biosimilar competition. Based on the data, the safety, the efficacy, the familiarity of the products and comfortability for physicians and patients, those products were able to retain that business a little bit longer.”
However, with biosimilar manufacturers including Amgen and Pfizer trying to take market share away from branded J&J products, Wolk thinks copycats will continue to chip away at sales of certain drugs. Instead of suffering one big hit in 2019, the effect of competition will instead “bleed into 2020,” Wolk said.
J&J’s success at retaining a sizable share of the market in the face of off-patent competition means there is still potential for biosimilars to affect billions of dollars in sales.
Global sales of Remicade fell 18% last year but that still resulted in the drug generating revenues of close to $4.4bn (€4bn). Similarly, sales of multiple myeloma drug Velcade (bortezomib), which J&J sells outside of the US, fell by one third but nonetheless came in above $750m for the year.
The coming year will present another test of J&J’s ability to hold off biosimilar competitors, as well as potentially more scrutiny of the tactics it uses to do so.
J&J was fairly open about the tactics it would use to maintain market share ahead of the arrival of biosimilar competitors, telling investors it was “developing innovative contracts ... [to] utilize the full breadth of [its] portfolio.”
Walgreens and Kroger, which run retail stores that dispense prescription drugs, used that comment against J&J when they took the company to court over the steps it took to retain market share for Remicade.