The economics of biosimilars

Am Health Drug Benefits. 2013 Sep;6(8):469-78.


Background: The high cost of pharmaceuticals, especially biologics, has become an important issue in the battle to control healthcare costs. The Hatch-Waxman Act encourages generic competition but still provides incentives for pioneers to develop new drugs. The Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act is intended to do the same for biologics and biosimilars.

Objective: To examine information related to biosimilars to determine their potential impact on competition in the biologic market.

Method: Using information concerning the European Union (EU) and the pharmaceutical industry, this article reviews and analyzes the experience of biosimilars in the EU, as well as the obstacles and opportunities that biosimilars face in the United States. Much of the analysis is based on examining current trends in biologic drugs and the potential implications on the future of biosimilars.

Discussion: This article reviews the mixed success of biosimilars in the EU and the implications for the United States. Because biologics are produced from living organisms, manufacturing issues are more important than in the chemical drug market. The barriers to biosimilar entry into the marketplace are much more difficult to overcome than challenges generic manufacturers typically face and are similar to obstacles specialty injectable producers encounter. The competitive responses by pioneers are also likely to be more important. The capital costs and risk issues with biosimilars make alliances and partnering arrangements very likely. Biosimilars often enter emerging markets, where the barriers to entry are easier to overcome. Nevertheless, the United States represents the greatest opportunity for biosimilar producers, in part because it is the largest biologics market and has high prices for biologics. As the United States enters the biosimilar market, the pharmaceutical industry is likely to grow at an accelerated pace. Automatic substitution is likely to be slow to develop, because of safety and quality concerns. The beneficial impact of biosimilars is likely to take a long time to be realized and to be fraught with more difficulties than was the case for small-molecule generics.

Conclusion: Various factors, such as safety, pricing, manufacturing, entry barriers, physician acceptance, and marketing, will make the biosimilar market develop different from the generic market. The high cost to enter the market and the size of the biologic drug market make entry attractive but risky.