Pierre Bourdage, global head of Biopharmaceutical Strategy & Portfolio Management at Sandoz, is flying the flag for biosimilars

What is your background and current position?

I was recently appointed ad interim global head, Biopharmaceuticals, in addition to my role as global head of Biopharmaceutical Strategy & Portfolio. I joined Sandoz in 2018 in the latter role, leading the strategy and portfolio planning for an organisation responsible for the development and commercialisation of biopharmaceuticals, including biosimilars.

I’m really proud to be part of Novartis and its divisions (Pharmaceuticals, Alcon, Sandoz) for 18 years. Before I joined Sandoz, I worked at Alcon, as the general manager of UK and Ireland, and for many years prior I worked with Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada across various roles and multiple franchises. My most recent role in Canada was as vice president of the Neuroscience & Multiple Sclerosis Specialty Franchise.

What do you feel has been your greatest professional achievement in your role?

In my current role over the first year, I’m very proud that as a team we’ve been able to expand our portfolio through external partnership deals on four additional biosimilars. With the addition of insulins and an oncology biosimilar, once approved, we have the potential to help millions of patients access the medicines they need. I am proud to be part of the work Sandoz is doing to increase access to biologics and other medicines.

What has been your greatest frustration?

For me, one of the greatest frustrations is securing access to biosimilars across and in countries.

Healthcare systems are facing tough choices: growing, ageing populations and the demand for world-class biologic medicines is exceeding available resources so patients may not be getting the treatment they need.

Despite proven benefits for patients and healthcare systems and increasing confidence among healthcare professionals (HCPs), access to biosimilars still isn’t equal even in countries that believe in their promise. Regulatory, reimbursement, intellectual property thickets and other needless hurdles are delaying patient access to these life-changing medicines and leaving millions of dollars in savings unclaimed.

Overarching regulatory guidelines for biosimilars may have been in place in the European Union for 13 years, but disparity in access between countries remains. In 2017, Germany was the only country in which all registered biosimilars were available and funded. Uptake is variable with infliximab and etanercept biosimilars at >70% in Denmark and <15% in Southern Ireland.

Misinformation and misperceptions about biosimilar medicines continue to exist.

Broadly speaking, what do you think lies in the future for the pharma industry?

With the cost of specialty medicine continuing to rise, combined with the ageing population and increasing prevalence of chronic conditions, the future for the pharma industry will depend on our ability to create a sustainable healthcare system. Biosimilars are one way that we’re taking action to future-proof human healthcare. They have the potential to revolutionise treatment for chronic diseases, provide overall and earlier access to treatment, and increase healthcare savings by billions of dollars that could then fuel further innovation.

Do you think pharma needs to expand its offering ‘beyond-the-pill’?

To Sandoz, moving ‘beyond the pill’ means embracing innovative developments that improve access and change patient outcomes which could mean new devices or delivery mechanisms. At the same time, there are still at least 400 million people worldwide who lack access to essential health services and more than two billion who cannot afford to buy the medicines they need. This why we show up every day.

Is there potential for a closer working relationship with healthcare services?

Definitely. We need to be working closely with healthcare services and key stakeholders to continue to improve and accelerate uptake of biosimilars in markets and work together to come up with solutions to bring biosimilars to markets, ensuring there are healthy, and sustainable healthcare systems.

Having closer working relationships isn’t limited to just healthcare services but also regulatory bodies like the US Food and Drug Administration, European Medicines Agency or physician associations and patient advocacy groups. Collaborating with these groups to increase education around biosimilars will help increase understanding of their value and benefits. It’s important that we all work together to achieve the full potential biosimilars can bring.

Are biosimilars living up to their promise of driving patient access to medicines?

Yes, we are already starting to see the impact biosimilar medicines can have and their potential to provide earlier and expanded access to life-changing treatments for increasingly prevalent, chronic conditions. They help save resources for over-burdened healthcare systems and fuel greater innovation.

For example, a teaching hospital in the UK saved around £450,000 in the first year by moving from a reference biologic to a biosimilar to treat inflammatory bowel disease, while in a Belgian hospital, patients with inflammatory bowel disease were switched to a biosimilar, freeing up cash to treat more patients and extend nursing care.

Another great example is pegfilgrastim biosimilars which increased usage by 104% when it came to the market in the UK. In the US, pegfilgrastim has surpassed the reference medicine in terms of marketshare, and continues to deliver real savings – more than half a billion dollars in the first two years of availability.

There’s still a lot of work to be done but the above examples demonstrate the impact of biosimilars in driving access and increasing healthcare savings, which are estimated to be between 50-100 billion euros with just the US and EU (top five countries) between 2015 and 2020i.

What are the key barriers to their uptake, particularly in the UK?

Overarching regulatory guidelines for biosimilars may have been in place in the European Union for 13 years, but disparity in access between and even in countries remains.

The UK is a great example of how quick biosimilar uptake can happen (70%-90% biosimilar penetration, and getting faster with each new biosimilar) and benefit the health system, even with individual hospitals making decisions and not a central authority, if all stakeholders are on the same page about the inherent benefits.

While the discounts have been strong and have benefited the NHS with savings, we want to ensure the UK market is sustainable and attractive for future biosimilar entrants (molecules and companies) so price cannot be the only factor in decision-making, and procurement processes should not strive to bottom out the prices as in the long run, this will reduce choice.

There are three key measures that could go a long way in helping UK, and all patients and healthcare systems benefit.

What tops the list is the need for predictable and balanced pricing mechanisms. This helps resource-strapped healthcare systems and biosimilar manufacturers to plan more effectively.

Tender practices should consider total value, rather than price alone, such as we see in France where tenders are awarded based 60% on price and 40% on qualitative criteria.

Finally, we need to build strong frameworks that continue to incentivise healthy competition as we think about increasing equitable patient access and sustainable healthcare.

If we can make progress in these areas, we can keep unlocking the doors which encourage a competitive and sustainable environment for biosimilars now and in the future.

What are your passions outside of work?

I like the simple things: travelling with my family, spending time outdoors and enjoying time with my kids. This gives me energy and a lot of joy.