Biosimilars take off at Novartis generics unit

Thu Oct 21, 2010 7:30am EDT

* Strong generic Lovenox launch a boost for biosimilars

* Novartis generics arm Sandoz targeting growth in biotech

By Ben Hirschler

LONDON, Oct 21 (Reuters) - The promise of biosimilars -- cheap copies of biotech medicines -- is becoming a commercial reality for Novartis's (NOVN.VX) generics arm following a take-off in sales in the third quarter.

Revenue from generic enoxaparin, a copy of Sanofi-Aventis's (SASY.PA) anticoagulant Lovenox developed with Momenta (MNTA.O), far exceeded expectations at $292 million in the period, and strong demand for other biosimilar products also impressed.

The speed of uptake for generic enoxaparin exceeded all recent injectable drug launches in U.S. market and puts the product on track to achieve blockbuster status, with annual sales above $1 billion.

Dominic Valder, industry analyst at Evolution Securities, said Novartis's generics unit Sandoz had been helped by the fact the new drug was approved as substitutable with the original -- but it also showed momentum behind biosimilars was building.

"The train has left the terminal and its travelling in one direction," Valder said.

Sandoz also reported continued growth in Omnitrope, its copy of human growth hormone, and it has recently launched two other products in the oncology field -- Binocrit, or epoetin alfa, and Zarzio, or filgrastim.

Sandoz has made biosimilars a priority for future growth. It faces competition in the space from Israel's Teva TEVA.O and a handful of other sophisticated generic drugs manufacturers.

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For other stories on biosimilars see: [ID:nLDE69H22G]

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Biosimilars are getting a lot more attention from pharmaceuticals investors these days.

Shareholders in companies making patented biotech products -- like Roche (ROG.VX), Amgen (AMGN.O) and Novo Nordisk (NOVOb.CO) -- are worried about the impact of cheap versions of their medicines in the years ahead.

Investors in generic drug firms, meanwhile, see the emerging biosimilar field as a route to more profitable sales at a time when prices for conventional pills and capsules are under increased price pressure.

Only a limited number of simple biotech drugs are available now as biosimilars, including human growth hormone, anaemia treatment EPO and G-CSF against low white blood cell count.

But other more lucrative areas are now being targeted. Pfizer (PFE.N) this week joined forces with India's Biocon (BION.BO) to develop cut-price versions of insulin products and copies of some antibody-based drugs could be available in Europe in 2014 or 2015.

The European Medicines Agency is due to issue guidelines on biosimilar antibody drugs next month. (Editing by Michael Shields)

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