Health AbbVie's blockbuster drug Humira finally loses its 20-year, $200 billion monopoly

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After 20 years and $200 billion in revenue, Humira — an injectable treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and several other autoimmune conditions — has lost its monopoly. Early Tuesday morning, California-based biotech firm Amgen released Amjevita, the first close copy of the best selling drug of all time. At least seven more Humira copycats, known as biosimilars, are expected to debut later this year.

"It's about time!" said Sameer Awsare with a laugh and a smile. Awsare, associate executive director for the Permanente Medical Group, advises national insurer Kaiser Permanente on its prescription drug policies. Other groups representing insurers, patients or employers are also eager for these biosimilars to usher in more competition — in hopes that will enable them to slash their spending on the popular treatment.

But among industry watchers, the prevailing sentiment is uncertainty over whether competition alone will bring the price down.

"I am pretty anxious," said Marta Wosińska, an economist and fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Humira losing its monopoly creates the biggest test the fledgling U.S. biosimilars market has ever faced. It's a market critical to containing drug costs in the U.S., which relies primarily on competition rather than regulation to rein in spending.

If these challengers to Humira fail to pass this test, some will see it as a sign something about this market is fundamentally broken.

 
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