Following the Pack to Future Returns

Mylan (Nasdaq: MYL  ) is late to the party, but it looks like the generic-drug maker has the right formula to catch up.

Follow-on biologics -- generic versions of protein-based biologic drugs -- can already be approved in the EU and Japan, and a pathway for approval in the U.S. seems likely, given the way politicians cite follow-on biologics as one of the potential saviors of the health-care system. While Mylan was busy integrating Merck KGaA's generic drug business, its key competitors, Teva Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: TEVA  ) , Novartis (NYSE: NVS  ) , and Dr. Reddy's Laboratories (NYSE: RDY  ) were setting up their systems for making generic biotech drugs.

Rather than establishing its own pipeline, Mylan is muscling its way into the follow-on biologic market by setting up a licensing agreement with India-based Biocon. Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) used a similar strategy to catch up earlier this year, although it actually just bought the pipeline of follow-on biologics (and a manufacturing plant to make them in) from Insmed rather than licensing it.

Biocon has a pipeline of follow-on biologics, and the two will share development costs, using Mylan's extensive marketing presences to sell the drugs in most major markets.

Interestingly, the partnership seems to be focused on antibodies rather than easier-to-duplicate hormones like Pfizer's (NYSE: PFE  ) human growth hormone, Genotropin, or Amgen's (Nasdaq: AMGN  ) white-blood cell stimulator, Neupogen. Considering the late start, that's probably a good move, as Mylan and Biocon will likely have less competition with antibody drugs.

Mylan may be following on a bit late, but there's time to catch up. The follow-on biologics train hasn't left the station yet.

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. Pfizer is an Inside Value recommendation. Novartis is a Global Gains pick. The Fool's disclosure policy is second to none.

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