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More providers could start offering the generic version of expensive treatments for things like cancer

Biosimilars still face barriers but that could change with more education
Patient at hospital
Posted at 4:46 PM, Apr 02, 2024

We know that generic drugs are designed to work the same way as name brand drugs, but for a lower price. An emerging group of medications called biosimilars are aiming to do the same thing for biologic drugs.

Biologics are medicines made from living organisms. Vaccines are probably the most common treatments made this way. But biologics also cover things like transplant tissues, gene therapies, and stem cell therapies— all of which can have really high prices tags. Some are even in the millions.

So, if biosimilars can reduce that cost, it could make a big difference in the lives of people dealing with things like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and rare diseases.

"If you think about all the money that the U.S. healthcare system spent on all drugs, all simple molecules, all generics, every medicine— biologic medications accounted for almost half of that. And not that many people take these biologic medicines," said Fran Gregory, the vice president of emerging therapies at Cardinal Health.

"This is kind of why biosimilars have come to market. They cost on average, about 50% less than reference products or brand products, but some can cost up to 85% less."

For the last few years, Cardinal Healthhas been tracking barriers that both patients and providers face in getting biosimilars.

Here's what they found:

"Sometimes healthcare providers and insurance companies are financially incentivized in a complicated way that doesn't always necessarily line up with prescribing or administering the lowest cost medication, unfortunately. So that's kind of a financial piece that has been difficult to solve. The second piece that I think we have more of a maybe direct line to impact, is physician awareness and their confidence in biosimilars," said Gregory.

Since biologic drugs are made from living organisms, it's impossible to replicate them exactly. But a very similar drug can be made, hence the name biosimilar.

Biosimilars go through the same clinical trial and FDA approval process as biologics do. It's the same way generic drugs are tested to know that they'll work the same as name brand drugs.

"They've been proven through the FDA approval process that there are no meaningful differences in these products," said Gregory.

If you're looking to learn more about biolsimilars, the FDA can be a good resource.