Angry Pfizer accuses J&J of violating antitrust laws in safeguarding a megablockbuster franchise

John Young

By most accounts, Pfizer was on the verge of inflicting some serious pain on J&J’s franchise drug Remicade when it rolled out a biosimilar of the megablockbuster drug in the US last year. But the competition from knockoffs barely dented sales, and now Pfizer is claiming in a federal lawsuit that its Big Pharma rival owes its success to monopolistic sales practices.

Pfizer is tackling J&J in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where it alleges that its pharma rival employed “exclusionary contracts and other anticompetitive practices (which) have denied U.S. patients access to therapeutic options and undermined the benefits of robust price competition in the innovative and growing biologics marketplace for patients,” according to a statement from the company.

Pfizer is claiming that J&J violated federal laws along the way, including antitrust provisions. The lawsuit states:

The threat from Inflectra did not go unnoticed by J&J. Within weeks of Inflectra’s launch, J&J began to deploy what it publicly terms its “Biosimilar Readiness Plan.” The core features of the plan are exclusionary contracts that foreclose Pfizer’s access to an overwhelming share of consumers, coupled with anticompetitive bundling and coercive rebate policies designed to block both insurers from reimbursing, and hospitals and clinics from purchasing, Inflectra and other biosimilars of Remicade despite their lower pricing.

J&J, though, has already shrugged off any near-term hit from biosimilar competition, and execs say they have some big advantages in maintaining their franchise revenue.

J&J CFO Dominic Caruso recently told attendees at a conference that the small discount offered by Pfizer as well as the lack of interchangeability with the mainstay is blunting the rival’s ability to carve away market share.

Pfizer, though, begs to differ on that score. And the case will be closely followed by all the big players in the industry — from those developing biosimilars of some of the biggest blockbusters now on the market to the companies that are afraid of the generic competition that is looming.

“By offering highly similar therapeutic options for patients, doctors and health plans, biosimilars foster therapeutic choice and increased access to biologic medicines around the world,” said John Young, Pfizer’s group president of its Essential Health division. “For U.S. patients and providers to realize the benefits of biosimilars, new and existing biosimilar entrants should have a fair chance to compete with originator products – now and in the future – based on lawful pricing and access practices. By supporting the availability of biosimilar therapies, we can help ensure that patients have better access to a wide range of lower cost therapeutic options.”

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