Hundreds of firms join global hunt for copycat biotech drugs
* 245 companies developing or already selling biosimilars
* 700 biosimilars approved or moving through pipeline
* Leading role for South Korea, Brazil: BioWorld report
By Ben Hirschler
Sept 29 (Reuters) - Hundreds of companies around the world are chasing an emerging market for cheaper copies of costly biotech drugs, with more than 700 so-called biosimilars now in development or already approved, according to a major study of the sector.
Biotech medicines - made from proteins and other large molecules - account for six of the 10 biggest-selling drugs in the world today, led by AbbVie's $12 billion-a-year rheumatoid arthritis injection Humira.
The total market for such biological medicines could exceed $250 billion by 2020 but many of today's top-sellers, such as Roche's cancer drugs Rituxan and Herceptin, are now losing patent protection or will do so in the next few years.
That has opened up an opportunity for companies with the technical ability to make copycat versions - something that is easier said than done, since such drugs are produced in living cells and imitations can only ever be similar, not identical.
Despite the hurdles, a total of 245 companies in different countries have now jumped on the bandwagon as developers, manufacturers and suppliers of biosimilars or follow-on biologics, the study compiled by Thomson Reuters BioWorld found. Continuación...