Canadian Patients Speak Out on Biosimilars

TORONTO, Oct. 3, 2016 /CNW/ - Heath Canada has just approved Canada's sixth biosimilar and suggests we may have up to 60 more biosimilars applications over the next two years. At the same time, Canadian patients who are taking biologic medicines seem to be pushing back. A recent survey found that about 60% of Canadian patients said they would be unwilling to switch from their current "brand" biologic to a "biosimilar" product.  And 90% of respondents said drug plans should assure that the original biologic drug and the biosimilar not be listed as interchangeable.

The Canada-wide survey was conducted from May to June 2016 by the Consumer Advocare Network, a not-for-profit umbrella organization of patient groups. The 320 patient respondents represented a range of conditions including inflammatory, blood, heart, pulmonary, immune-related, and multi-systemic conditions, as well as diabetes, cancer, and rare diseases.  About half (54%) said they were taking biologics.

Unlike conventional drugs, which are chemical compounds and relatively small and simple in structure, biologic drugs are grown from living organisms, such as a human cell, mouse embryo, or yeast. Biologics have larger and more complex structures and are virtually impossible to copy exactly. So a biosimilars is approved as "similar" but not identical to the original biologic.

With are more than 1,350 biosimilars in development for a wide range of conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, anemia, low white blood cell counts, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis and other skin conditions and many forms of cancer, it is a concern that nearly 45% of those surveyed said they were unfamiliar with biosimilars. In addition, more than 60% said their source of information about biosimilars was the web and only one-quarter said they had learned about these from their clinician.

According to Durhane Wong-Rieger, Chair of Advocare, "What sparked this discussion was a recommendation from the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) that clinicians should talk to patients who are taking biologics about switching to a biosimilar. We heard from patients who were terrified that they would be switched to a new medicine that would potentially work differently or have different side effects."

About 60% said it could be okay to prescribe a biosimilar to new patients but 60% said they themselves would not switch to a biosimilar if they were already using an original biologic. Respondents had mixed opinions about how much the price of a biosimilar should influence use. About 40% said that patients should accept a biosimilar if it were cheaper while another 40% said that price should not be a factor. Nearly one-half said that governments should not encourage clinicians to switch patients on the basis of price, while one-fourth said it could be a reason for switching.

While CADTH has since clarified that they were not recommending that patients who were stabilized on a biosimilars be switched, not every clinician seems to have gotten that message. Said one respondent, "My husband was told by his clinician that he was being switched to the biosimilar and despite his protests, the prescription was sent to the insurance plan. There was a gap of at least six weeks when he got no medicines and he suffered a medical event.  Now he has been put back on the original biologic."

While respondents expressed mixed feelings about using biosimilars, there was one issue where they had 100% agreement, namely, that patients have the right to be informed and to make a choice as to whether they wanted an original biologic or a biosimilar. Period.  No exceptions.

The Canadian patient survey on biosimilars was conducted in May and June 2016.  Results are available upon request.

SOURCE Consumer Advocare Network

For further information: Durhane Wong-Rieger, Chair, Consumer Advocare Network, Direct: (647) 801-5176, Email:

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