Unlike traditional pharmaceuticals — also known as “small-molecule” drugs — that are developed through a chemical process, biologic drugs are typically derived from living cells. Often, biologics are the only (or best) treatment available for serious illnesses, like cancer or genetic disorders.
However, the process of developing biologic medicines is much more complex and time-consuming than small-molecule drugs, which means they can often be very expensive.
Fortunately, just as generics give patients more affordable access to the treatments they need, biosimilar drugs offer significant cost savings when compared to their biologic counterparts. While it isn’t a perfect analogy, biosimilars have an analogous relationship to biologics as generic drugs have to name-brand pharmaceuticals.
The primary difference is that, while generics are exact chemical copies of the original drug, biosimilars are developed to be highly similar copies that are as safe and effective as the original biologic.
Creating an exact copy of a biologic is impossible because they are derived from living cells, which are constantly changing. Even biologic drugs themselves vary from batch to batch, so no two batches of the same biologic are exact copies, either.
However, just like generics, biosimilar drugs have a revolutionary potential to drastically lower costs for patients and our entire healthcare system.
Biologics vs. biosimilars
Biosimilars could save the U.S. healthcare system more than $250 million over 10 years. In 2018, less than 2 percent of patients were using biologics, but biologics accounted for 27 percent of prescription drug spending.
As much as $100 billion worth of biologics is expected to be off patent by 2020, which will open up tremendous opportunities for biosimilar development. Learn more about biosimilar basics for patients here.
The time is now
For too many Americans, soaring prescription drug costs have put treatment just out of reach, jeopardizing their health and well-being, and putting a strain on our entire healthcare system. To address this issue, it’s time to expand access to and increase the development of generic and biosimilar drugs. The Association for Accessible Medicines and the Biosimilars Council are committed to expediting the availability of safe, high-quality, and low-cost generics and biosimilars to help millions of Americans not only save money at the pharmacy counter, but also to live fuller, healthier lives. Bringing more of these drugs to market sooner can help save money — and lives.
SOURCE: The Biosimilars Council, Association for Accessible Medicines, [email protected]