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As Humira biosim sales languish, Boehringer Ingelheim plots layoffs in pivot to hybrid marketing model

As Humira biosim sales languish, Boehringer Ingelheim plots layoffs in pivot to hybrid marketing model

Over the past year, nine Humira biosimilars have leapt onto the U.S. market, including Boehringer's Cyltezo.  Despite Boehringer Ingelheim’s 2021 Humira biosimilar approval being heralded by some analysts as a “landmark achievement” for the field, the drug—dubbed Cyltezo—has struggled to gain traction thanks to the surprising resilience of AbbVie’s autoimmune blockbuster.

Now, in the face of lackluster Cytelzo sales, Boehringer has decided to prune its ranks in the U.S. and adopt a different way of marketing the copycat biologic. Boehringer has revealed plans to lay off staffers from its customer-facing teams for Cyltezo as part of a pivot toward a hybrid in-person and virtual sales model by June 30, Reuters first reported Thursday. A Boehringer Ingelheim spokesperson confirmed the news over email on Friday.

The German company linked the move to the fact that many pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) have kept AbbVie’s name-brand Humira on their formulary prescribing lists, stifling uptake of Cyltezo and other biosimilars like it in the U.S. “Due in large part to the complexities of a complicated landscape and several challenges with PBMs keeping Humira on formulary, adoption of Humira biosimilars at scale has not reached its anticipated potential,” Boehringer’s spokesperson told Fierce Pharma.

A “low double-digit number” of jobs will be affected by the cull, Reuters reported. Boehringer states online that it employs 53,000 employees globally. Boehringer's spokesperson did not provide the exact figure of planned cuts.

Meanwhile, BI's manufacturing and distribution network will continue to make its Humira biosimilars available to patients who need them. The company “remains committed” to its copycat biologic, BI's spokesperson said.

Over the past year, nine Humira biosimilars have jumped onto the U.S. market. Aside from Boehringer’s Cyltezo, lower-cost copycat options have been made available by the likes of Amgen, Sandoz, Biocon and Coherus BioSciences. More recently, Teva and its Icelandic partner Alvotech in February snagged an FDA nod for their Humira biosim Simlandi after a number of regulatory setbacks.

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Still, it’s proven difficult to edge AbbVie’s entrenched antibody out of first place. Despite the influx of biosimilars to Humira last year, AbbVie managed to keep hold of more than 98% of the adalimumab market, Reuters said.

The news service added that Cyltezo has only managed to garner 1,487 prescriptions since its launch in July, compared to almost 2.8 million Humira prescriptions over that same stretch, citing data from IQVIA. Boehringer’s Cyltezo was approved as the first interchangeable Humira biosimilar in the U.S. back in 2021 when it also earned the distinction of becoming the first FDA-approved interchangeable monoclonal antibody.

Interchangeable biosimilars can be swapped out for their name-brand counterparts right at the pharmacy counter without the need for doctor approval, mirroring the process for dispensing generic small molecule drugs.

Boehringer, for its part, actually launched two versions of its Humira biosimilar in 2023—one the branded Cyltezo, which carries a 5% discount to Humira, and the other an unbranded copycat simply called adalimumab-adbm injection that’s sold at an 81% markdown.

As of last October, a month’s supply of branded Humira ran for approximately $6,653 before discounts, according to online sources. Meanwhile, despite AbbVie experiencing a precipitous drop in Humira sales in 2023’s final quarter, the company has proven surprisingly resilient in the face of so many biosimilar challengers.

The lack of Humira biosimilars’ market impact was reflected in a Spherix Global Insights analysis published in September, which warned that prescribers had not “wholly warmed to these newcomers.” In particular, dermatologists showed the “highest degree of stated resistance to change.”

Still, Boehringer’s Cyltezo hasn’t been completely neglected by pharma middlemen. Last summer, following a similar announcement from Optum Rx, PBM giant Express Scripts said it would add Boehringer’s Cyltezo and two Humira biosims from Sandoz to its prescribing roster.

April 8, 2024

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