By and large, doctors appear to be comfortable prescribing biosimilar drugs, the copycat version of biologic medicines like inflammatory disease drug Humira or eye treatment Lucentis. But they aren’t yet sure the discounts offered are enough to justify switching patients who are stable on the brand-name products, according to an annual report from healthcare distributor Cardinal Health released Wednesday.
The report’s authors surveyed 300 specialists in rheumatology, gastroenterology and dermatology who have patients eligible to use Humira biosimilars. In all three specialties, more doctors agreed than disagreed with the statement, “today, the economics of biosimilars are not favorable enough to motivate me to switch from the reference products,” including a majority of rheumatologists. A large portion of physicians in each specialty neither agreed nor disagreed.
Separately, just under one third of 64 surveyed ophthalmologists said “not enough financial incentive” was a primary concern with prescribing biosimilars to Lucentis.
Yet a majority of physicians from the three Humira-prescribing specialties said they were “very” or “somewhat” comfortable prescribing biosimilars, including 100% of gastroenterologists. Among the ophthalmologists, 48% said they were “uncomfortable from a clinical standpoint” among their primary concerns prescribing biosimilars.
When asked which patients they are most likely to prescribe a biosimilar, the most common response among the Humira-prescribing specialists was “existing patients for whom payers have mandated a biosimilar,” suggesting that insurers’ policies will drive uptake. However, 40% of rheumatologists said “new patients” would be the most likely people to get a biosimilar prescription.
Publication of the report comes just three weeks after the launch of Amgen’s Amjevita, the first biosimilar to AbbVie’s Humira available in the U.S., and seven months after the launch of Biogen and Samsung Bioepis’ Byooviz, the first biosimilar to Lucentis available in the U.S.
Early biosimilar uptake in the U.S. has disappointed as prices, rebates, patient assistance and insurance coverage have allowed original branded products to retain substantial market share. Cancer drugs have seen some of the fastest adoption patterns, in part because of value-based payment models that encouraged the use of lower-cost medicines.
Competition among Humira biosimilars could give a glimpse of how quickly non-cancer biosimilars can take market share, as nine copies of the world’s biggest-selling drug are set to launch this year, some of which wil be directly substitutable by pharmacists.