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Joe Nocera

Drug-Price Transparency Won’t End the Patent Games

Just look at Humira, which is keeping its U.S. monopoly as generics hit the European market.

Bring on the biosimilars already.

Bring on the biosimilars already.

Photographer: J.B. Reed/Bloomberg

Late last week, Sandoz Inc., the generics division of Novartis AG, settled a patent lawsuit with AbbVie Inc. over Humira, a so-called biologic drug that treats rheumatoid arthritis and just so happens to be the biggest money-maker in all of pharma. With 2017 sales of $18.4 billion, Humira accounts for an astonishing 65 percent of AbbVie’s revenue.

The settlement will enable Sandoz to bring a generic version — called a biosimilar — to the U.S. market at the beginning of 2023, while paying AbbVie a royalty. This mirrored similar settlements with Mylan NV, Amgen Inc. and Samsung Bioepis Co. Ltd. that will allow all of them to sell generic Humira at staggered dates in 2023. (A fifth company, Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH, is continuing to litigate over the Humira patents.)