Biologic drugs can be life saving when plan members or their dependents become ill, but they can also be incredibly expensive, taking huge chunks out of your wallet or driving up the cost of your benefits plan. But what if there was a less expensive, yet highly effective solution?
That’s where biosimilar drugs come in. Biosimilars offer similar benefits as their native biologic, but at a fraction of the cost.
What Are Biosimilars and Why Are We Talking About Them Now?
Biologics tend to be larger and more complex than chemically made pharmaceuticals. They’re also more natural, as they are composed of living organisms.
According to Health Canada, a biosimilar is “a biologic drug that enters the market after a previously authorized brand version in Canada and with a demonstrated similarity to that reference biologic drug.” Due to the complex nature of biologics, biosimilars can only be “similarly” related to the original biologic – they’re not the exact same.
Biosimilars have gained widespread attention in recent years as a lower cost alternative to the original biologic drug. Green Shield Canada (GSC) has taken a leadership position when it comes to increasing the uptake of biosimilars through a biosimilar transition program. Under GSC formularies, biosimilars are listed as preferred products, and the originator products are covered only in exceptional circumstances. This allows easier access to the less expensive biosimilars to GSC’s plan members, and that’s a good thing.
You can learn more about GSC’s take on biosimilars on their podcast.
Why are Biosimilars not Being Used All the Time?
If biosimilars are cheaper and do the exact same thing, why aren’t more people using them? It comes down to two big reasons (although there are others):
- Stigma and misinformation. The perception of a biosimilar has proven difficult to overcome. Many ask, “Is similar good enough?” The other difficulty to overcome is the idea that if it’s cheaper, that must mean it’s not as effective or has added side effects.
- Physician reluctance to prescribe. Biosimilars are still relatively new to the market when compared to their biologic counterparts. Physicians have been hesitant in adopting these new drugs because of their familiarity with biologics and the effects on their patients.
Both of these issues will take time to correct, but as insurers like GSC continue to promote the benefits of biosimilars and stay the course with the transition program, uptake is expected to increase.