Novartis buys EU rights to Pfizer's Remicade biosimilar, targeting Merck

Novartis' Sandoz head Richard Francis

Novartis ($NVS), which won the U.S.'s first-ever biosimilar approval last year, is expanding its reach in Europe, buying the continental rights to a Pfizer ($PFE)-developed take on the blockbuster Remicade.

Through its Sandoz business, Novartis is paying an undisclosed sum for the European rights to PF-06438179, an autoimmune treatment now in Phase III development. As a condition of its $17 billion acquisition of Hospira last year, Pfizer promised EU antitrust authorities that it would exit the European market for Remicade biosimilars while it presses forward in the U.S. with a similar product invented by partner Celltrion.

Novartis' move marks another threat to Merck ($MRK), which markets the Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ)-invented Remicade in Europe. Merck's Remicade revenue dropped 24% to $1.8 billion last year as it contended with the early days of biosimilar competition, and the U.S. drugmaker has been slashing prices around Europe to defend its position.

As for Sandoz, the company launched the first U.S. biosimilar last year with its take on Amgen's ($AMGN) blockbuster Neupogen and has promised to submit 10 global regulatory filings for copycat biologics through 2017. In addition to Remicade, Sandoz is developing biosimilars of AbbVie's ($ABBV) Humira and Amgen's Enbrel, blockbuster products that also treat a wide range of autoimmune disorders.

- read the statement