Arthritis drug Humira's two-decade reign ends as Amgen launches competing biosimilar

Drugmaker Amgen on Tuesday launched a biosimilar to the widely-prescribed Humira, giving consumers an alternative to the world's top-selling rheumatoid arthritis drug.

The new drug, Amjevita, will be sold at a list price from $1,558 to $3,288 for a 40 milligram, two-week supply of the injectable drug, Amgen said, representing discounts of 5% or 55% from Humira's list price.

The amount consumers pay will depend on the pharmacy benefits under their health insurance plan.

Amjevita is the first of more than a half dozen biosimilars expected to launch this year and compete with AbbVie's Humira, which had a two decade exclusive window and generated more than $20 billion in sales last year.

The anti-inflammatory is also used to treat plaque psoriasis, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

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Why does Amjevita have two list prices?

For a person with severe rheumatoid arthritis, the annual cost for a typical 40 mg Amjevita dose every two weeks would be $40,497 or $85,494.

A person's out-of-pocket costs depend on their insurance plan, which might share costs through copayments, deductibles or coinsurance.

Amgen officials said the company wanted to provide broad access for patients by offering two pricing options to health plans and pharmacy benefit managers. Drug manufacturers pay rebates to insurers and pharmacy benefit managers, which negotiate with drug manufacturers on behalf of insurers.

Why are patient advocates concerned?

Patient advocates say they will monitor whether consumers will financially benefit from lower-priced biosimilars.

Insurers, pharmacy benefit managers, employers that provide health insurance and government health programs such as Medicare should save money as more biosimilars hit the market, said MacKay Jimeson, executive director of the Patient Access and Affordability Project at the nonprofit Patients Rising.

Organon/Samsung Bioepis, Boehringer Ingelheim, Coherus, Mylan, Sandoz and Pfizer will launch biosimilars this year. Several pharmacy benefit managers said they plan to include biosimilars on their formularies, the list of drugs a consumer can access through their insurance plan.

"It's not clear that (savings) will trickle to the patients, and that's going to be the most important thing," Jimeson said.

Will doctors prescribe biosimilars?

Biosimilar drugs generally are used the same way and have the same strength, dosage and side effects. Companies can conduct additional studies on biosimilars to be deemed interchangeable, similar to a generic version of a drug.

Doctors who prescribed Humira are largely comfortable prescribing biosimilar version of the drug, according to a Cardinal Health survey of nearly 300 specialists.

At least 3 in 4 dermatologists, gastroenterologists and rheumatologists are very or somewhat comfortable recommending biosimilar versions to their patients, the survey said. Key factors that specialists cited when considering to prescribe biosimilars included evidence on safety and effectiveness as well as out-of-pocket costs, the survey found.

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Ken Alltucker is on Twitter at @kalltucker, or can be emailed at

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Amgen launches Humira biosimilar Amjevita for rheumatoid arthritis