India's Lupin queues up for a share of the biosimilar boom

Lupin Managing Director Nilesh Gupta

With some of its larger rivals already at work on biotech knockoffs, Indian drugmaker Lupin is on the hunt for partners to help shepherd it into the biosimilar fray, taking aim at top-selling treatments soon to come off patent.

As the company told Reuters, it already has 10 biosimilars in development, 5 in late-stage studies, and now it's looking for some product-by-product partnerships to carry its candidates to the market. In addition to injectable biologics for cancer and inflammatory disease, Lupin wants to make its way into the multibillion-dollar respiratory space, scouting for a partner who can develop an inhaler that would allow it to contend with major sellers like GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) Advair and AstraZeneca's ($AZN) Symbicort, Managing Director Nilesh Gupta told Reuters.

Lupin is hardly the first to see dollar signs in the world of biosimilars, and it'll face some sizable competition once it gets up and running. In India alone, generics magnate Dr. Reddy's Laboratories has teamed up with Merck KGaA to copy oncology drugs, and Biocon, the nation's biggest biotech company, is working with Mylan ($MYL) to push a generic version of Roche's ($RHHBY) Herceptin, among other blockbusters. And Big Pharma, never to be counted out when there's money to be made, has made a splash of its own, with Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Merck ($MRK) gunning for Sanofi's ($SNY) top-selling Lantus.

The biosimilar gold rush comes as little surprise considering the numbers involved--IMS Health figures the market for biotech generics could soar as high as $25 billion by 2020, Reuters notes--but victory on a global scale will require some serious heft in manufacturing, commercialization and regulatory affairs, hence the prevalence of partnering. And for Lupin--which is named for the flower and not the famed thief--successful copycatting would mean beating out global giants like Teva Pharmaceutical ($TEVA), Novartis' ($NVS) Sandoz business and a joint venture between Samsung and Biogen Idec ($BIIB), to name just three.

"There are about 7 or 8 players who are working for the same product," Gupta told Reuters. "It will be an interesting space, and I don't think more than two or three players will make it to the finish line."

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