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AbbVie tries to reassure investors on Humira biosimilar threat

Dive Brief:

  • U.S. Humira sales fell 40% year over year during the first three months of 2024, to about $1.8 billion, as biosimilar copycats put pressure on AbbVie’s top-selling drug, the company said Friday in its first quarter earnings report.
  • The declines were “in line” with what the company had anticipated for its inflammatory disease drug, AbbVie commercial chief Jeffrey Stewart said in a call with investors. Humira now faces 10 copycat competitors in the U.S., the first of which launched Jan. 31, 2023.
  • Stewart said the company also expected a recent decision by CVS Health, whose pharmacy benefit manager is the country’s largest by prescription claims, to remove Humira from its national pharmacy effective April 1. Although that has meant Humira’s market share dropped from 96% to 81% over two weeks, Stewart said some of the shift went to other branded medicines, like AbbVie’s products Skyrizi and Rinvoq.

Dive Insight:

AbbVie’s post-Humira future is becoming clearer. Richard Gonzalez, the only CEO the company’s ever known, is handing over the reins effective July 1 to chief operating officer Robert Michael. The executive team has nearly finished navigating Humira’s loss of market exclusivity and AbbVie’s next challenge is growing its newer slate of drugs.

But questions remain about how much revenue AbbVie can still wring from Humira, which topped out at $21 billion in global sales in 2022, as well as how quickly it can be replaced by revenue from Skyrizi and Rinvoq, which treat many of the same conditions Humira does.

Skyrizi and Humira had nearly equivalent global sales in the first quarter, at $2 billion and $2.3 billion respectively, while Rinvoq brought in $1.1 billion. The newer drugs are growing quickly, too — Skyrizi sales rose 48% and Rinvoq 59% over the first quarter of 2023.

CVS’ decision to exclude Humira does raise some doubt over how well sales will hold up in the U.S., especially if other pharmacy benefit managers follow that lead. Sandoz’ Hyrimoz, which benefits from an exclusive contract with a CVS subsidiary called Cordavis, represented 15% of the total prescriptions for adalimumab, Humira’s scientific name, for the week ending April 12, according to analysts from Deutsche Bank.

That number held steady the week ending April 19, those analysts wrote. However, Alvotech and Teva announced a deal for their new biosimilar Simlandi, which mimics Humira’s most popular formulation and can be directly substituted at the pharmacy. “It’s hard to rule out” a similar strategy to “rapidly gain share,” the Deutsche Bank analysts write.

Stewart said AbbVie doesn’t expect “widespread” exclusions, however.

“If we look through the rest of ‘24 we have very solid contract with the payers,” he said. “Remember that these payers can add biosimilars at parity, whenever they choose to [as they did] last year, in the middle of the year, and that’s really not different [this year].”

AbbVie shares fell by nearly 5% in Friday morning trading.