Patient Views on Similar Biologic Medicines: "No Forced Change"

TORONTO, July 27, 2017 /CNW/ - "No forced change." That was the response of an overwhelming majority of patients who responded to a nationwide survey on biosimilar medicines. Over 90% said they had the right to make an "informed choice" and strongly rejected "automatic substitution" of their current biologic drug with a biosimilar, which is "similar but not identical" to the original drug.

Biologic medicines are a relatively new category of medicines. They made from living cells, like bacteria, yeast, or plant and animal cells and are used to treat a large variety of diseases like diabetes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, gastrointestinal disorders, and many rare disorders. Because these are large and complex drugs, it is not possible for another manufacturer to make an exact copy, but they may receive approval for a "highly similar" version that has been demonstrated to work "similar" to the original and to cost less.

But not all patients are convinced that they will work exactly the same. About 80% of the 588 survey respondents, half of whom were taking biologics, felt they would not have the same effectiveness in treating their disease. As importantly, they believed the biosimilars could have different unwanted side effects. Side effects are significant because biologic medicines are made from living organisms and more likely to cause allergic or immune reactions. In the words of one patient, "It has taken me almost two years to anticipate how I will react when I get an injection. I don't want to have to start all over."

"Given the many biosimilars that are coming and the potential cost savings, one of the purposes of the survey was to learn what information influences patient willingness to use a biosimilar," said Durhane Wong-Rieger, Chair of the Consumer Advocare Network. Most compelling was the fact that biosimilars are subject to "head-to-head" clinical trials with the original biologic. Conversely, a major barrier for 75% of respondents was the possibility of a biosimilar being available based on extrapolation, that is, without a direct clinical trial. The ability to track the effects of each drug were very important to 60% of respondents. However, a lower cost was important to only 20% of patients with more than 80% saying patients should have the right to an original biologic, even if it were more expensive.

Of greatest concern was the possibility of being "switched" from the current medicine to a biosimilar without their consent or the knowledge of the physician. This is a common practice in Canada with "automatic substitution" of a generic version of the prescribed "brand name" medication by the drug plans or at the pharmacy. As noted by many respondents, "Biosimilars are not identical generic copies. It would be unethical to switch and the patient to experience a outcome without knowing what might have caused it."

The bottom line is that patients want to be sure that the biologic medicines they are taking have been tested for their condition, they have a choice as to which biologic is prescribed, and what they are prescribed is what they get.

The survey was conducted by the Consumer Advocare Network in May and June 2017 with responses representing all disease areas, including arthritis, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, cancers, and rare disorders. Additional results will be presented in a webinar at the end of August.

SOURCE Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders

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

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