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Biologics: what are they?

A biologic medicine (a term which is commonly shortened to a biologic) is any medicine that has been made from living material, which could include blood, human cells, animal cells, bacteria and yeast. Scientific progress and increased knowledge in developing biologically derived medications has led to new understanding of diseases.

In fact, in the last three decades, biologic medicines have provided alternative treatment options, including for those who suffer from very serious medical conditions. “Since early 1991, biologics have become a backbone of cancer treatment and continue to revolutionize care.” – Sandeep Sehdev, MD, FRCPC, Medical Oncologist, William Osler Health System.

Now, there are over 200 biologics and vaccines authorized for use, the majority of which are therapeutic proteins.


Creating a biologic requires sophisticated equipment, extensive testing and expert staff. Through the manipulation of DNA, scientists can change living cells to produce biologic treatments. These are usually complex proteins that have been shown to play a role in a particular disease process. By introducing these proteins into the body, the disease process can be altered.

Like all medicines, biologics can cause certain side effects, depending on the particular therapy. Potential adverse events can range from injection site reactions, to nausea and headaches, to serious infections such as sepsis or tuberculosis, among others. The risks and benefits of treatment with a biologic are detailed in its product monograph, and should always be considered prior to initiating therapy.

After reading this story, do you understand more about biologic medicines?