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Boehringer Ingelheim announced plans to lay off part of its sales team due to disappointing U.S. sales of its biosimilar version of AbbVie’s Humira, a popular arthritis treatment. The German pharmaceutical company intends to transition to a hybrid sales model by June 30, combining in-person and virtual approaches, in response to pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) continuing to favor branded Humira for reimbursement.

This preference has hindered the adoption of biosimilar alternatives like Boehringer’s Cyltezo in the U.S. market. While specific layoff figures were not provided, Boehringer, which employs 53,000 people globally, aims to streamline its customer-facing operations.

Despite the launch of nine biosimilars in the U.S. last year, AbbVie has retained over 98% of the Humira market share. Boehringer introduced Cyltezo in July but has only recorded 1,487 prescriptions since then, compared to nearly 2.8 million Humira prescriptions during the same period.

Humira, once the world’s bestselling prescription medication with annual sales of $22 billion in 2022, has faced competition from Merck & Co’s Keytruda. Unlike traditional generic pills, biosimilars cannot be replicated exactly due to their complex biologic nature.

Boehringer priced its branded and unbranded versions of the drug at a 5% and 81% discount, respectively, to Humira’s 2023 list price of $6,922 per month. Swiss drugmaker Sandoz and Amgen also launched biosimilars at similar price points.

Boehringer’s Cyltezo stands out as the first biosimilar designated interchangeable by the U.S. FDA, meaning it can be substituted for the original Humira without consulting the prescriber. Despite this designation, prominent PBMs like UnitedHealth Group’s Optum Rx and Cigna’s Express Scripts have chosen to include Cyltezo on their reimbursement lists alongside Humira and other biosimilars.