J&J downgrades biosimilar threat as Q3 pulls in $10bn+ in pharma sales

J&J reported its sixth consecutive quarter with sales above $10 billion in its pharmaceutical division and has lowered its biosimilar headwind forecast to $2 billion.

For the third quarter 2019, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) reported sales across all its units of $20.7 billion (€18.8 billion). Its pharmaceutical division pulled in roughly half of the total, $10.8 billion, up 5.1% on the same quarter last year.

“This was our sixth consecutive quarter with sales above $10 billion,” Jennifer Taubert, EVP and worldwide chairman of Pharmaceuticals at J&J said on a call. “Our growth was broadly based with 10 of our key brands growing at double-digit rates, which more than offset the erosion due to biosimilars in generics.”

Biosimilar headwinds! Image: iStock/photoschmidt

These include the monoclonal antibodies Stelara (ustekinumab), which grew 31% year-on-year, Darzalex (daratumumab), which grew 57%, and Tremfya (guselkumab), which grew by 70%.

But for some of its other products, notably Remicade (infliximab), the firm has been feeling the impact of biosimilar for several years. This quarter, the autoimmune biologic reported sales worldwide of $1.14 billion, down 17.6% on Q3 2018.

However, J&J has repeatedly forecasted significant headwinds due to biosimilar competition but on the call, management seemingly downgraded the threat.

“We think we’re seeing about $2 billion of incremental impact from biosimilars and generics,” Taubert said. “This is a little bit less than what we had anticipated this year.”

At the beginning of the year, the firm said it expected a headwind of approximately $3-3.5 billion from generic and biosimilar competition.

“However, the number of generic approvals and the erosion rates are starting to catch up,” Taubert warned.

In Europe, biosimilars have had a major presence for more than a decade. But while biosimilars made an initial mark in the US when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Sandoz’s Zarxio (filgrastim) in 2015, in the proceeding four years, the sector has somewhat stalled amid ongoing political debate, legal complexities and pricing/reimbursement.

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