Pfizer cuts price of Enbrel to match rival ‘biosimilar’ drug

Price drop is first under pricing deal signed by Government and Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association

The price of one of the world’s most popular drugs is falling 30 per cent in Ireland under the terms of a recently signed pricing agreement.

Enbrel, the Pfizer blockbuster used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic inflammatory conditions, will see its price drop from November 1st following the arrival in the Irish market of a competing "biosimilar" drug Benepali from Biogen.

The price drop is the first under a new pricing agreement, the Framework Agreement on the Supply and Pricing of Medicines, signed by the Government and the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA), which represents drug manufacturers, last July.

It agreed that new-generation biologic drugs should be reduced in price by 20 per cent once they lose patent protection and face direct competition from a biosimilar drug in the market.


Enbrel lost patent protection in Europe earlier this year. Biogen introduced Benepali into the Irish market in September.

Additional rebates paid by the company to the HSE under the agreement bring the effective price cut to 30 per cent.

Biogen had priced Benepali at a 30 per cent discount to the Pfizer drug, so the two medicines are now selling at identical prices.

Savings to consumers

A spokesman for the

Healthcare Enterprise Alliance

, which represents generic/biosimilar manufacturers and which had opposed the pricing agreement measure as not going far enough to encourage competition, said it welcomed any competition that would bring savings to consumers.

It said what it described as the “biosimilar blocking” clause in the agreement meant “the two competing medicines will have the same price, removing the incentive for payers or prescribers to switch”.

“The long-term implication, as we have seen in other countries, is the status quo remains, prices are higher than they need to be, and the full extent of what can be saved is never realised.”

Sources in the branded drug industry acknowledged yesterday that practitioners were unlikely to move patients off what has been a successful therapy for a rival drug that cost no less.

Where a generic medicine is a cheaper identical “copy” of a branded traditional small-molecule drug, biosimilars are “me-too” versions of modern, large-molecule complex biologic medicines. The nature of biologics means biosimilars cannot be identical to them, but to be licensed they must show no meaningful difference in safety, purity or potency from the original drug.

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle

Dominic Coyle is Deputy Business Editor of The Irish Times