Pfizer sues Johnson & Johnson over alleged biologics monopolization

20 September 2017. By Richard Vanderford.

Pfizer has sued Johnson & Johnson, accusing the company of using its clout with insurers to maintain a dominant position for its drug Remicade, a biologic used to treat arthritis and other conditions.

J&J threatened to cut off insurers from lucrative rebates if they gave equal treatment to Pfizer's version of Remicade, known generically as infliximab, Pfizer said Wednesday in a complaint filed in Philadelphia federal court.

The move helped protect the lucrative drug, which brought in about $4.8 billion in sales for J&J in 2016, from competition, Pfizer said.

"J&J's behavior runs counter to the spirit of this law and to US antitrust laws," Douglas Lanker, Pfizer's general counsel, said in a statement. "We are filing this suit to help ensure that patients can benefit from, and have access to, lower cost biosimilar therapies."

Relatively novel compared to more conventional drugs, biologics are complicated formulations isolated from biological sources rather than synthesized from chemicals. 

Biologics offer new treatment possibilities for some hard-to-address conditions. Remicade, for example, can be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, plaque psoriasis, and Crohn's disease. But a full course can cost as much as $26,000 a year, Pfizer said.

Pfizer introduced an equivalent product to Remicade, called Inflectra, in 2016 after J&J's patents expired. The drug was granted "biosimilar" status under a 2010 federal law, the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act, meant to foster competition in the fledgling area of pharmaceuticals.

A biosimilar under the BPCIA is a drug that has no meaningful differences from an already approved biologic. They receive faster approval.

J&J took several steps to try to stop Inflectra, which cost less than Remicade, from gaining ground in the market, Pfizer said.

Exclusive deals with insurers blocked them from reimbursing providers for any version of infliximab but Remicade, a serious hurdle given that a single dose of the drug can cost as much as $4,000.

J&J allegedly used the threat of cutting off valuable rebates on Remicade to induce insurers to enter the deals. The company also allegedly threatened to stop insurer rebates on other drugs if insurers began to cover Inflectra on equal terms, Pfizer said.

"Insurers have stated a desire to support biosimilars — and the lower per-unit prices they bring — but realistically cannot do so without incurring a substantial financial penalty imposed by J&J and thus potentially placing themselves at a disadvantage relative to insurers accepting J&J's rebates," Pfizer said in its lawsuit.

Inflectra on average is sold at prices 10 percent cheaper than Remicade, according to Pfizer.

Pfizer has asked for monetary damages and a court order barring J&J's allegedly wrongful conduct.

A spokesman for J&J didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

	Eliot Gao