AbbVie Takes on All Comers When It Comes To Protecting Humira

A Fortune magazine expose argues that protective litigation offers a cautionary tale about the vulnerabilities of legacy pharma.

Humira has become the bestselling drug in the world in part because manufacturer AbbVie takes a “sue anybody who comes close” approach to possible competition, argues author Sy Mukherjee over at Fortune. In an expose, Mukherjee points out that AbbVie has sued makers of biosimilars to Humira often to delay their coming to the market. It’s been a successful strategy from AbbVie’s point of view: The first biosimilars to Humira aren’t expected to reach market the U.S. until 2023.

Humira rakes in sales of about $20 billion a year and represents 60% of Abbvie’s revenues. AbbVie bought the Humira patent from a smaller company, and expanded its original purpose (to fight rheumatoid arthritis) so that it’s a therapy for other autoimmune diseases, such as psoriasis and Crohn’s disease.

But what’s good for AbbVie, isn’t good for consumers, and the sales strategy and litigation keep Humira’s price too high, argues Mukherjee. It more than tripled from 2006 to 2017, when a one-year supply soared from $16,636 to $58,612.

“As much as it might look like the quintessential example of scientific innovation and marketing success, the story of how Humira became the world’s bestselling drug is a case study of an industry in slow-motion failure—of a corporate model that is increasingly forsaking investing in research and discovery in favor of purchasing it (at a premium) from the outside,” writes Mukherjee. “That model is driving up costs for everybody—patients, government payers, insurers, and, yes, even drug company shareholders.”