Novartis tips Lucentis to weather the arrival of biosimilar copies in Europe

By Nick Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

Lucentis (ranibizumab) is used to treat adults with certain sight problems caused by damage to the retina. Pic:getty/jonathanstorey
Lucentis (ranibizumab) is used to treat adults with certain sight problems caused by damage to the retina. Pic:getty/jonathanstorey

Related tags Novartis Biosimilars Lucentis Europe

Novartis has set out how it expects biosimilars to affect its business in the coming years, identifying sales of $80bn that are open to its off-patent business and expressing confidence in the ability of some of its own products to weather the arrival of copycats.

Like some of its peers, Novartis is both a developer of biosimilars, through its Sandoz unit, and the owner of branded biologics that will be threatened by the arrival of off-patent rivals when they lose intellectual property protection.

Talking to investors on a second quarter results conference call on July 19, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan set out how he sees the opportunities and threats posed by biosimilars playing out. In terms of threats, the CEO provided an upbeat assessment of the likely impact of biosimilar copies of Lucentis.

We do expect a few biosimilar entries in Europe. I think it's important to note that with the broad-scale availability of Avastin for now many, many years that we believe the biosimilars market has, in effect, already happened in Europe. So, we would expect a moderate decline on the launch of the biosimilars, but maybe not what you would see with other biologics when biosimilar entry occurs​,” said Narasimhan.

The CEO’s comment refers to the fact that many doctors and healthcare bodies such as some NHS (National Health Service) clinical commissioning groups in the UK see Roche’s Avastin as a clinically acceptable alternative to Lucentis for patients with wet age related macular degeneration, despite the product not being authorized for use in the disease. Avastin costs far less than Lucentis.

While Novartis works to prepare Lucentis to hold off biosimilar competitors, its Sandoz unit is gearing up to try to win market share from other large biopharma companies. Narasimhan identified more than 15 Sandoz biosimilars that are targeting branded biologics with $80bn of sales.

Humira accounts for around one-quarter of the sales identified by Narasimhan. Sandoz’ Hyrimoz is part of a slate of biosimilar copies of the AbbVie blockbuster that are scheduled to come to market in the US in 2023.

Clearly, the number of entrants when the adalimumab market formation happens will mean that it will be a highly competitive market but nonetheless, given the size of the opportunity, it will help meaningfully drive growth for the brand​,” said Narasimhan.

The CEO highlighted Biogen’s multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri and Amgen’s osteoporosis therapy Prolia as other biosimilar opportunities that could drive growth at Sandoz, noting that the company expects to be among the earlier entrants to each market.

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