Are you familiar with biosimilar drugs?

Une main avec des médicaments et un verre d'eau

You’ve been taking the same medication for years and now suddenly, your doctor is talking about replacing it with a biosimilar drug. Need to know more about biosimilars? Great, because we have the answers you’re looking for!

Biologic, biosimilar and generic drugs 101: What are the differences?

Biologic drugs are made using living cells and organisms (yeast, bacteria).

They’re used to treat the following diseases:

  • Diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Psoriasis
  • Inflammatory intestinal disease
  • Certain types of cancer

Biosimilars (also known as subsequent entry biologics) copy biologic drugs. They also contain living cells.

Generic drugs can treat the same diseases, with similar effects. What sets them apart is that the medicinal ingredients are reproduced from chemical molecules rather than living cells.

Lots of products, one rule

Health Canada must approve all pharmaceutical products, regardless of their type, before they can be introduced on the market. It applies the same standards for quality, efficacy and safety  (This hyperlink will open in a new tab). for biosimilar drugs as it does for all other drugs.

Manufacturers must also prove that the biosimilar versions are similar enough to the reference biologic drug (the one they are copying).

Comparing biologic to biosimilar

Biologic and biosimilar drugs are primarily made up of the same active elements (the ones with medicinal effects), and they are similarly effective. There are, however, differences in the manufacturing cost.

The company that develops a biologic drug must go through several steps before the product hits the market, including research (biotechnology and others), developments, and a patent application with Health Canada. This process can easily take 10 years.

Patents guarantee exclusivity of the product to its inventor, and they last approximately 20 years. Once the patent expires, competitors can copy the drug and release their own version on the market. Their research investment is much lower, meaning they can sell the product for less.

That’s why using biosimilar drugs helps control the growing cost of providing care, including insurance. This option helps to keep group insurance plans more affordable so they can continue to exist despite rising inflation and demand.

Our approach with biosimilars

To help maintain our group insurance plans, Beneva has started a transition toward biosimilar drugs for our insured customers. We’re following in the footsteps of several provincial governments who have already adopted this approach to help curb health costs: British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick and Quebec.

In summary, Beneva is now reimbursing the purchase of a biologic drug only when a corresponding biologic drug doesn’t exist.

Some exceptions apply. Pregnant women, for example, can submit claims for their biologic drug up to one year after the delivery date, even if a biosimilar version of the drug is cheaper.

Slow and steady transition

Are you due to change your medication soon and have concerns? It’s okay to be concerned about and looking out for your health. But remember that for a biosimilar drug to be approved, several clinical studies must have shown the absence of significant differences between the biosimilar and the biologic version it’s copying.

Know that the product your doctor wishes to prescribe didn’t appear in pharmacies overnight. Rather, it’s the culmination of a long process involving many clinical trials.