Biologic medicines are drugs that have been made from living material, such as blood, human cells, animal cells, bacteria or yeast. They are large, complex, protein-based molecules.
Biologics are a type of medication prescribed for people with conditions including anemia, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, hormone deficiency and some cancers. They come from living organisms or their cells, and are often made using biotechnology.
When the patent for the original biologic expires, scientists can make similar copies called biosimilars.
As the name suggests, a biosimilar biologic drug (biosimilar) is similar but not identical to the innovator brand name, biologic drug. As a result, small differences between products are inevitable, which is why it is important for patients to consult with their doctor to learn more about their medication and what’s involved when substituting one for the other.
Understanding – Switching from a Brand Name Biologic to a Biosimilar
Historically, when the patent for a small molecule drug expires and a generic version becomes available, patients are often switched from the original, “brand name” product to this generic version. This is possible because these drugs are chemically identical. However, when it comes to biosimilars, switching could be problematic since they are not identical to their innovator brand name product. Therefore it is important that any switch in therapy takes place in full consultation with a physician and the patient.
Health Canada recommends that a decision to switch from a brand name innovator product to a biosimilar should be made by the treating physician in consultation with the patient. This will ensure that patients receive the medication that they expect, based on conversations with their doctor.
For questions related to switching from one biologic drug to another, patients should speak to their physician about what it means for them as a patient and for their treatment.