Pharma, BioPharma

J&J believes heft will protect Remicade against biosimilar competition

Johnson & Johnson is hoping that its blockbuster drug will be protected through its network with large healthcare systems when biosimilar competition arrives to U.S. shores.

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On Tuesday, Johnson & Johnson posted better-than-expected results on the back of strong growth in its pharmaceutical business.

The blockbuster biologic Remicade, approved for a variety of  immune-mediated inflammatory diseases, was a contributor to that growth. Yet there is concern among analysts regarding the future of the drug given the imminent launch of a competing biosimilar in the U.S.

Interestingly, in the sales guidance that J&J offered, there was no mention of what the impact would be on Remicade revenue when that biosimilar does in fact launch, a fact that did not go unnoticed.

“It’s worth noting that J&J guidance doesn’t include the launch of a biosimilar Remicade, while our model assumes an October 2016 launch,” wrote Michael Weinstein, an analyst with JP Morgan, in a research note Tuesday.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the Remicade biosimilar Inflectra, made by South Korean firm Celltrion, in April.

A transcript of the earnings call from Seeking Alpha shows that Remicade’s export sales have already taken a hit because of competition from biosimilars.

Later in the earnings call, an analyst asked J&J executives if there were any steps the company could take, given its relationship with payers and hospital networks, to offset the impact of the launch of the competing biosimilar.

Alex Gorsky lauded the importance of biosimilars overall, but his answer seemed to be that scale, heft and outcomes, will protect the Remicade franchise in the U.S. Here’s what he said on the earnings call, according to a transcript from Seeking Alpha.

… as we look at REMICADE itself, we know that there’s about 2.4 million patients who’ve been treated with the compound. We know that about 70% of them in fact are getting good relief and good effects. We know that they’re unlikely to be switched when they’re getting a positive response from the therapy. And we also know that when we contract across the Janssen and Johnson & Johnson portfolio that it provides us a very important position with larger healthcare systems and networks. So that’s the way we think about it, and that’s the way we plan for it going forward.

Back in April, J&J’s chief financial officer, Dominic Caruso, had declared that he expected no biosimilar competition for Remicade in 2016. A quarter later, on Tuesday, Gorsky’s prepared remarks struck a different tone that acknowledged the landscape changing.

With the combined strength of our end market portfolio, deep late-stage pipeline, and robust early-stage pipeline, we feel confident our Pharmaceutical business can successfully navigate through the launches of new competitive biosimilar or generic entrants and evolving market dynamics, and our objective is to continue delivering above-industry growth.

Photo: Getty Images, mirjanajovic