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Fear not, AbbVie. Sales king Humira might have a graceful fall from biosim attack: analyst

AbbVie’s top job today centers on developing new sources of revenue out of the fear that biosimilars to its megablockbuster Humira will cause a precipitous sales decline starting in 2023. But after analyzing prior cases, one team of analysts believes Humira might experience a more graceful fall than pharma watchers currently expect.

Humira could still rake in at least $14.5 billion in 2023 U.S. sales during the first year of biosimilar attack, SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges’ team projected in an investor note Monday. That’s compared with the overall Wall Street estimate of $10.5 billion for that year, he noted. Last year, even as Humira faced biosim competition in Europe, the drug generated $19.8 billion globally.

Looking forward, the revenue decline for Humira could be more gradual than expected up to at least the third quarter of 2025, Porges wrote. The difference between Wall Street’s view and the SVB Leerink’s new projection could be “material” for the Illinois drugmaker, Porges said.

Under the new SVB model, Porges figures Humira U.S. sales could still come in at $3.4 billion in the third quarter of 2025—the 11th quarter after first biosim launch.

The team reached the conclusion after fitting the popular TNF blocker in a model based on sales data from six branded biologic drugs that already face U.S. biosim competition. They are Roche’s cancer drugs Herceptin and Rituxan, Amgen’s blood disorder drugs Neulasta and Johnson & Johnson-partnered Epogen/Procrit, plus J&J’s rival TNF inhibitor Remicade. The six meds posted combined peak revenue of $18.1 billion in 2016 and dropped by 44% to $10.2 billion last year.

For those six drugs, the branded originators still retained a median of 65% of revenue six quarters from initial biosimilar entry and appeared to be able to maintain it through to the 11th quarter after copycat launches.

Remicade, a rival to Humira, faced its first biosimilar in late 2016. Since then, the drug’s U.S. sales dropped 41% from a peak of about $1.3 billion in the third quarter of 2016 to roughly $800 million in the first quarter of 2021. While three copycats offer an average discount of 37%, the original drug still managed to keep 89% market share of total prescriptions.

Remicade’s strong defense is likely thanks to a small number of copycat competitors and long duration of treatment, Porges noted.

On the flip side, Herceptin appeared to have suffered the sharpest drop among the six branded meds. Its sales plummeted 74% in the first quarter of 2021 from a pre-biosimilar peak of about $820 million in the second quarter of 2018.

The analyst attributed the rapid decline to higher number of biosimilars, relatively short duration of therapy and the drug’s narrow label in just HER2-positive breast and stomach cancers.

AbbVie has signed patent settlements with eight biosimilar makers, with staggered launches set to start in early 2023. While that’s a large number of competitors, the drug’s unique formulation characteristics, wide range of indications and extended treatment use could help AbbVie’s defense, Porges wrote. The company could also benefit from strong contracting agreements with payers and “extensive patient and physician familiarity,” he added. If past biosim situations are any lesson, those features could help defend Humira from a rapid decline, he predicted.

Currently, Humira is still pulling off sales increases stateside. In the first quarter, its U.S. sales increased 6.9% to $3.9 billion. In anticipation of the anticipated U.S. patent cliff, AbbVie is now shifting its focus to newer immunology drugs Rinvoq and Skyrizi.