An introduction to biosimilars

Biologic therapies provide life-saving treatments to patients with chronic conditions. However, they are also among the country’s most expensive medications. While just 2% of the US patient population uses biologics, they account for 26% percent of the nation’s total prescription drug spending, according to a recent study from the Biosimilars Council.

Here’s the good news: Biosimilars are increasingly being developed to combat rising costs, and improve access to these medications. Here’s a quick introduction to these game-changing treatments:

  • What is a biosimilar?
    A biosimilar is a biological medication that is similar to an FDA-approved biologic, also known as the reference product. However, these medications are not generic versions of the reference product. Rather, a biosimilar is a drug that has no clinically meaningful differences in safety, purity, and potency from its reference product.The first biosimilar was approved in the US in 2015 and, as of January of this year, there are now more than 25 FDA approved biosimilars, with more than 50 in development.
  • What conditions do biosimilars treat?
    Biosimilars are most commonly used to treat chronic conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, anemia, leukopenia, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, and various forms of cancer.
  • What benefits do biologics provide for members?
    These drugs are also expected to cost 10-40% less than their reference products, which will significantly lower out of pocket costs. As a result, more patients will have access to these medications–which helps to boost adherence and improve health outcomes for the members who need it most.
  • How do biosimilars lower medication costs?
    Biosimilars could shift utilization towards more financially accessible therapies. They may also drive competition in the biologic market place–which forces companies to adjust their pricing in order to attract and maintain consumers. In fact, it has been estimated that FDA-approved biosimilars could save patients and the healthcare system up to $250 billion in their first 10 years on the market.
  • Why does it take so long for biosimilars to come to market?
    Developing these medications is expensive, with an estimated cost between $100 and $300 million per product–which could limit the number of manufacturers who are capable of making them or are willing to invest in these therapies. Once a product has been created, it must go through a lengthy FDA approval process, which is often followed by patent litigations that must be settled before it can be made available to consumers.

While adoption of these drugs are growing slowly, at Abarca, we think biosimilars are a critical part of providing a better way in healthcare, and we will continue to monitor and evaluate these treatments as they become available.

This blog was written by Ana M. Rivera, PharmD, Clinical Programs Manager at Abarca.

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