Merck & Co. Discounts Remicade in U.K. as Copies Enter

  • Merck responds to competition from Napp, Hospira's copies
  • Biosimilars are hurting sales of blockbuster arthritis drug

Merck & Co. is dropping the price of its blockbuster arthritis medicine Remicade by 25 percent in the U.K. through discounts and rebates to retain market share after cheaper copies became available in February.

Merck is offering 48 million pounds ($74 million) in discounts and rebates to the U.K.’s National Health Service on the basis of about 191 million pounds in Remicade sales, the drugmaker’s Medical Affairs Director Colin Wheeler said in an interview Thursday. South Korea’s Celltrion Inc., maker of a biosimilar version of Remicade, in February published a budget impact analysis for discounts of up to 30 percent. Napp Pharmaceuticals Ltd. and Pfizer Inc.’s Hospira unit market Celltrion’s drug in the U.K.

Remicade’s travails in Europe are being closely watched by investors and drugmakers such as AbbVie Inc. and Johnson & Johnson because it’s one of the first to face a major challenge from biosimilars, which -- unlike generic versions -- aren’t exact copies. Aggressive discounts on these imitation drugs are prompting some doctors in Europe to prescribe them rather than the originals. In Norway, Orion Oyj offered a 69 percent discount on its biosimilar in February.

Merck, based in Kenilworth, New Jersey, said in July that global sales of Remicade slumped 25 percent in the second quarter after biosimilars entered the market in Europe.

In the U.K., biosimilar versions of Remicade currently have less than 5 percent market share and are mostly prescribed for newly diagnosed patients, Wheeler said. That may change with more evidence from research. The Norwegian government is funding a study to observe the effects of moving from Remicade to a biosimilar and is expected to publish results in the third quarter of 2016, Steinar Madsen, medical director at the Norwegian Medicines Agency, said last week.

Merck sells Remicade in Europe under a license from J&J, which sells the drug in the U.S. Remicade’s U.S. patent extends until September 2018, according to a spokesman for J&J.

(Corrects attribution for biosimilar's discount in second paragraph of story published Oct. 22.)
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