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US drug pricing watchdog to examine AbbVie's upadacitinib in arthritis

AbbVie Inc.'s rheumatoid arthritis prospect upadacitinib will be the subject of an updated review by the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review examining the cost-effectiveness of 11 arthritis drugs, including the company's bestseller Humira.

The drug pricing watchdog, known as ICER, found in a 2017 assessment that eight of the 11 drugs were more cost-effective for moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis than Humira.

Upadacitinib, which was found to be superior to Humira in a head-to-head study, received the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's priority review designation in February, which brings the agency's expected decision date to the third quarter.

The 11 immunotherapy drugs from the previous report are AbbVie's Humira, UCB SA's Cimzia and Amgen Inc.'s Enbrel; Johnson & Johnson's Simponi and Remicade; Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Orencia and Roche Holding AG's Actemra; Roche and Biogen Inc.'s Rituxan; Sanofi and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.'s Kevzara; Eli Lilly and Co.'s Olumiant and Pfizer Inc.'s Xeljanz.

ICER determines the cost-effectiveness of a drug by examining disease burden for patients using a quality-adjusted life year. The organization determined in its previous review of the rheumatoid arthritis drugs that they required discounts of 69% to 29% to be considered cost-effective.

Humira had sales of $19.94 billion in 2018, but biosimilar encroachment and the lack of a succession plan for the blockbuster drug have applied pressure to AbbVie's strategy, as indicated by executives on the company's most recent earnings call. The company is looking to upadacitinib to bolster revenue as Humira faces increasing competition.