The 2020 biosimilars market estimate for the MENA region was US$1.6 billion with a double-digit growth rate before the pandemic hit the world. However, as the gravity of the situation started unfolding, it became explicit that there would be a decline of about 6 per cent to 10 per cent from the original estimate. This decline is attributed to the international supply chain disruptions, nation-wide lockdowns, overwhelmed healthcare infrastructure, poor patient adherence for injectable products and delay in the approvals and commercialisation of new biosimilars in the region.
This decline will not cause long-term disruptions as patients requiring biological products have chronic conditions and their treatment requirement is for a lifetime. By mid-2021, the biosimilars industry is expected to get back on its original growth trajectory but around the contours of newer opportunities.
Prediction 1: Local production of biosimilars is expected to increase by 8-10 per cent in the next 3-4 years with government impetus, leading to more MNC-domestic collaborations
GCC countries such as the KSA and the UAE lead the local manufacturing initiatives and will continue to invest in greenfield manufacturing projects, especially for biosimilars. Favourable government policies (e.g., scrutiny of high-priced, exported branded drugs) and incentives towards R&D-intensive local manufacturing of monoclonal antibodies-based biosimilar drugs for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and cancer will further boost the localisation agenda in the next 3-4 years.
With COVID-19 creating immense financial pressures on the payers, hospitals and patients, the government is looking for ways to lower healthcare costs and reduce out-of-pocket expenses for patients as a long-term strategy. Thus, it is expected that there will be faster reforms in the regulatory landscape that support the biosimilar category and the region will see growth in the number of local contract development and manufacturing organisations (CDMOs) and domestic manufacturing plants catering to the biosimilars market with potential drugs like adalimumab, rituximab, infliximab, etanercept and trastuzumab. It is recommended that drug OEMs prioritise choosing free economic zones and hotspot locations with maximum incentives to produce locally and team up with local pharmaceutical companies with high quality and technology standards. It will be critical for MNCs to strategically collaborate with local agents or distributors for expertise on domestic contacts, customs regulations, new laws and specific opportunities to localise their finished product manufacturing processes.
Prediction 2: Biosimilars offered with comprehensive patient support programmes will gain maximum traction in the region
With COVID-19 cases incessantly rising, the plans to return to normalcy loom under uncertainty, and patients’ dependence on medications, whether a biologic or biosimilar, to manage their chronic conditions is not going to slow down or stop. Several pharmaceutical companies are offering comprehensive and holistic support programmes for their patients, providing financial support (access) and other value-added services (assistance) like online consultations with doctors, in-home diagnostic support, home delivery of medicines, nursing support for in-home injections, transportation support and counselling support.
Frost & Sullivan research findings highlight that the brands with patient support programmes for access will observe an increase in prescription rate by 6 per cent; the brands with patient support programmes for assistance will see an increase in prescription rate by 10 per cent in the next 12 months. With biosimilars being introduced in the MENA region at 60 per cent of the price of biologic counterparts, we believe that integrating biosimilars with patient assistance programmes like telehealth, e-pharmacy and home nursing support would enable this segment to capture about 50 per cent of the total market share by 2025.
Prediction 3: Virtual interactions between pharmaceutical companies and physicians will be the new norm post-COVID-19
We believe that in the next five years, more than 60 per cent of physicians will prefer virtual interactions with pharmaceutical company representatives. One of the momentum shifts we are starting to see in the biopharmaceutical industry is the rigorous adoption of virtual collaboration tools for tele-detailing. Biopharmaceutical companies are currently working on prototypes that enable their medical representatives to interact and engage with physicians in a productive virtual environment. Companies are now adopting virtual collaboration tools for tele-detailing and supplementing them with social media platforms to inform and educate physicians in a more personalized manner. We see an immense opportunity for biosimilar companies in the region to leverage various digital channels like webcasts, webinars and virtual events to share the latest advancements in the biosimilars segment, like clinical data.
Companies that are preparing to launch new biosimilars in the MENA region in 2020 should plan for a soft launch and leverage digital tools and technologies for their marketing activities with the Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). Companies with biosimilars in their portfolio should initiate discussions and training sessions for key rheumatologists, dermatologists, gastroenterologists, oncologists and other specialists in the country and transition them to digital portals as a long-term strategy.
Biopharmaceutical companies need to redefine their strategic business models and leverage digital technology to be a winner in the post-COVID-19 world. To succeed, all stakeholders across the value chain must collaborate and deliver a digitized patient-centric solution to truly address patients’ needs.