Boehringer Ingelheim Cuts Staff Due to Low Humira Biosimilar Sales: Reuters

Boehringer Ingelheim_iStock, Sundry Photography

Pictured: Boehringer Ingelheim's headquarters in Silicon Valley/iStock, Sundry Photography

Boehringer Ingelheim is laying off some of its sales staff due to the slow uptake of its Humira (adalimumab) biosimilar Cyltezo (adalimumab-adbm) in the U.S., according to reporting from Reuters.

The company declined to reveal how many of its employees will be affected by the layoffs but has said that it plans to cut back on customer-facing sales teams and instead transition to a hybrid model, including face-to-face and virtual operations.

Boehringer’s decision to change its sales approach was driven in large part by pharmacy benefit managers, which have kept Humira on their list of drugs available for reimbursement, according to Reuters. Patients have largely favored the branded product over biosimilars like Boehringer’s Cyltezo.

Owned and commercialized by AbbVie, Humira is a monoclonal antibody that targets and blocks the TNF protein, which is a key player in the inflammatory cascade. The FDA first approved Humira in December 2002 for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, and the treatment has since secured several indications for other immune-mediated and inflammatory disease, such as Crohn’s disease, plaque psoriasis and ulcerative colitis.

With several approvals under its belt and a strong risk-benefit profile, Humira quickly became one of AbbVie’s best-performing assets. The treatment is also among the world’s top-selling drugs, clinching the top spot for several years. At its peak in 2022, Humira brought in more than $21 billion in annual sales.

However, losing most of its patent protections in recent years has potentially threatened Humira’s market dominance. In 2023, Humira only generated $14.4 billion in sales worldwide, a 32.2% decline from its high the prior year. AbbVie attributed the sales hit to the erosion of its market.

Several biosimilar developers have sought to take advantage of the opportunity and come out with their copycat versions of the blockbuster drug. Amgen opened the floodgates in January 2023 with the debut of Amjevita, followed by a flurry of launches in July 2023. This batch included Celltrion’s Yuflyma, Sandoz’s Hyrimoz, Oraganon and Samsung Bioepis’ Hadlima and Boehringer’s Cyltezo.

Boehringer’s Humira biosimilar stands out from its peers for also having the FDA’s interchangeability designation, which allows it to be substituted for the reference branded product without needing to change the prescription or consult the prescriber. The company has also offered steep discounts for Cyltezo, launching an unbranded version in October 2023 that sells for 81% lower than Humira’s price.

Still, AbbVie has kept its tight grip on the market, surrendering only 2% of its massive share to its biosimilar competitors, according to Samsung Bioepis’ 4th Biosimilar Market Report published in January 2024.

Tristan Manalac is an independent science writer based in Metro Manila, Philippines. Reach out to him on LinkedIn or email him at tristan@tristanmanalac.com or tristan.manalac@biospace.com.

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