by Giuliana Miglierini
What does it happen under a competitiveness perspective once intellectual property (IP) protection for medicinal products expired? And what is the impact of the new entries on generics and biosimilars already in the market?
The role of competitor entry on the market has been analysed in a report by IQVIA.
The document focuses on loss of protection (LOP), thus including in the analysis all products that are free from any form of IP rights (patent protection, SPCs, RDP, market exclusivity/loss of exclusivity, data exclusivity, orphan/paediatric drug exclusivity). According to the report, there are many elements to be considered while assessing the impact of IP rights, among which are regulatory issues, prices policies, competitiveness landscapes. Finally, all the previously mentioned issues are today facing a higher pressure due to the incumbent global situation, characterised a generalised economic crisis especially in Europe. One of the main goals of the EU Commission is to increase the attractiveness of the internal market as a key innovative region for investment in the pharmaceutical sector.
The main trends of the past six years
The IQVIA’s report takes into consideration the group of medicines that have lost protection across the past six years (2016–2021), for a total of 118 molecules; it also analysed the impact of the alignment of the regulatory data protection (RDP) rules in Europe occurred in late 2005, as well as the entry of new countries in the EU occurred in 2004 (Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia). EU’s enlargement also included Romania (2007), Bulgaria (2007), and Croatia (2013). Many of the products considered in the analysis were innovative medicines, representing approx. 13% of the total European pharmaceutical expenditure at their peak.
According to IQVIA’s data, the total European pharmaceutical market at list prices valued € 1 trillion in 2016-2021. Over the same period, all protected products counted for 37% of total expenditure on pharmaceuticals (€ 377 billion). Medicinal products that lost protection represented roughly 10% of the total EU market value (€103 billion).
Forms of IP protection
Just more than a half (51%) of products that lost protection in years 2016-2021 were subject to a Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC), while the RDP mainly refers to older cardiovascular, or combination medicines. Eleven years is the current average length of protection in Europe (-4.2 years; it was 15.2 years for authorisations granted in 1999-2005); the decrease can be attributed to the entry into force of the European centralised system, that diminished the impact of delays to LOP. Market exclusivity also depends on the specific form of IP protection chosen, as it may vary the calculation from different starting dates for IP filing.
IQVIA’s data show that SPC represents 32% of the final form of protection; this sums to 19% of SPC followed by paediatric extension. SPC provides a maximum of 15 years of protection, with an average of 14.4 years. Medicines under regulatory data protection are 31% of total (8 years data exclusivity + 2 years market exclusivity +1 year for a significant new indication), the patented ones 11%. Smaller fractions are covered by orphan drug exclusivity (5%) or orphan drug extension followed by paediatric extension (2%). Considering sales values, the preferred constraining form of protection for small molecules is SPC (93%), followed by RDP (83%); SPC plus paediatric extension occurs in 50% of cases for biologics. Small molecules are also often subject (80%) to patent plus other forms of exclusivity (orphan/paediatric extension). According to IQVIA, the undergoing discussion on the review of the European IP legislation may lead to an alignment of the RDP duration to the US standard (5 years for small molecules, 12 years for biologics).
The impact of the different legislation governing patent litigation in the EU vs the US should also be taken into consideration.
Access and competition
Access of new generic and biosimilar medicines in the European market is a long debated issue, as historically it often proved difficult to determine the precise date of patent expiry and to find an alignment between different countries on this fundamental issue.
According to IQVIA’s report, in the years 2016-2021 the duration of access to major EU markets was 36 days. Competition for small molecules has reduced the cost by approx. 41%, with a volume growth of ~27%; the overall savings for the payer was -8% CAGR for the years 2016-2021. Biologics also increased their volumes year-on-year (23%). Less evident are savings for payers (8% increase in 2016-2021), but many biologics benefit of confidential discounts for hospital supplies.
Competition is very peculiar to the European market landscape, with 92% of molecules having competitors recorded by sales value. A very small niche (2%) of small, low value products proved to be less attractive; the remaining 6% refers to products under development. The biosimilar sector is particularly challenging, as only the largest molecules are attractive from the competition point of view; about 30% of products without a competitor in development are biologics.
Central and Eastern Europe countries are still the preferred ones for early access to competitors, compared to the EU4 markets (Germany, France, Italy, Spain), due to dates for LOP that are in many cases still subject to some variation. On the contrary, EU4 markets account for 89% of sales of available molecules; many countries have no recorded sales for 25% of the available originator molecules.
Data by IQVIA indicates that, at a macro-level, the system has reduced the cost of medicines open to competition by 28%, while the volume of treatment increased 27%. Despite this encouraging trend, treatment paradigms shifting were also observed before LOP.
As for therapeutic areas, RDP protected medicines that underwent LOP were mainly referring to anti-hypertensive (73%) and combination products (61%). The higher proportion of SPC protected products was found in systemic anti-fungals (60%), oncology medicines and HIV/anti-virals (45% each). Immunology and lipid regulators are often protected using SPC plus paediatric extension (60% and 50%, respectively)
The importance of intellectual property rights
Estimates of investments in pharmaceutical R&D are approx. €39 billion/year, according to the report. Return on investment relies heavily on IP rights, a theme that is central also to the ongoing review of the EU’s pharmaceutical and IP legislations. Many new treatments are on their way towards approval, especially in the field of advanced therapies; according to IQVIA, more than 60% are first-in-class therapeutics.
Two core concepts support the current European framework for intellectual property rights: a period of exclusivity applying to new compounds (patent protection + SPC), followed by open competition once all IP expired. At this stage, competitors can access open data and manufacturing formulations. Prices are often regulated at the national level to incentivise competition and to positively impact on treatment opportunities available to patients.
The current fragility of supply chains for pharmaceutical productions may pose many challenges to originator companies which remain the sole provider of a medicine after loss of protection. A risk highlighted by IQVIA’s report is a too pronounced decrease of prices to support competition, and thus the sustainability of the market.
Access to innovative medicines is another challenge identified, referring to countries where the originator did not launch its product, and neither the competitors did. Furthermore, competitor entry often refers to low-value medicines. This despite future loss of protection for the years 2026-2030 should refer mainly (55%) to biologic molecules, compared to 43% for the period 2021-2025.