By Pat Anson, Editor
A new biologic drug may soon be available for rheumatoid arthritis patients and others who suffer from autoimmune diseases – if they can afford it and if the drug clears a patent challenge.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved Amgen’s Amjevita as a biosimilar to Humira for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and severe plaque psoriasis.
“Approval of Amjevita is an exciting accomplishment as it marks a new chapter in Amgen’s story of being a leader in biotechnology. In addition, Amjevita holds the potential to offer patients with chronic inflammatory diseases an additional treatment option,” said Sean Harper, M.D., executive vice president of Research and Development at Amgen.
Amjevita is Amgen’s first approved biosimilar and the fourth to receive regulatory approval in the U.S.
“The biosimilar pathway is still a new frontier and one that we expect will enhance access to treatment for patients with serious medical conditions,” said Janet Woodcock, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
A biosimilar is nearly identical to an already-approved biological drug and there is no clinically meaningful difference in terms of their safety, purity and potency. Unlike generic drugs, however, biosimilars are not considered interchangeable with their branded counterparts – and are not given the generic label.
Zarxio was the first biosimilar product approved by the FDA as a version of Neupogen. The second was Inflectra, a biosimilar to Remicade. Last month the FDA approved Erelzi as a biosimilar to Enbrel.
Biologic products are generally derived from a living organism and can come from many sources, including humans and animals. They help inhibit the joint damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks joint tissues, causing pain, inflammation and bone erosion.
Injectable biologic drugs often work well in controlling RA and other autoimmune diseases, but can lose their effectiveness over time. They are also notoriously expensive, with some of the newer drugs costing $20,000 annually. A study last year found that Medicare patients paid an average of $835 in out-of-pocket costs every month to obtain them.
Last year Humira generated sales of more than $8 billion for drug maker AbbVie. In anticipation of Amjevita being approved by the FDA, AbbVie filed a lawsuit against Amgen last month, alleging that Amjevita infringes on 61 of its patents for Humira.
Because of that pending court case, a spokesperson for Amgen told PNN the company would be unable to provide a launch date for Amjevita or a projected price for the drug.
The most serious side effects of Amjevita are infections and malignancies. The drug will have a "Boxed Warning" to alert healthcare providers and patients about an increased risk of serious infections leading to hospitalization or death. The warning also notes that lymphoma and other malignancies, some fatal, have been reported in children and adolescent patients treated with tumor necrosis factor blockers, including Humira (adalimumab) products.