Biologics vs. Biosimilars

With all of the new medications available – and more becoming available every day – it’s important to know the difference between biologic medications and biosimilars.

What is the difference between a biologic and a biosimilar?

Biologics are medicines that are created using living cells. There are several different biologics available that are available and approved to treat a wide variety of chronic conditions, and several others are being studied in clinical trials. Biologics that are used to treat allergic conditions work by targeting molecules in the immune system that cause inflammation, and interrupting this process.

A biosimilar is a copy of a biologic medicine, with small differences in clinically-inactive components of the medicine. Biosimilars are close to the original biologic medicine, and similar in terms of safety and effectiveness. 

Are biologics more expensive than biosimilars?

Biosimilars may cost less than biologics. The development of a new biologic drug is expensive and requires a lot of research and clinical trials before it is brought forward to a regulatory agency, such as the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), for approval to treat  an indicated disease. 

The regulatory approval process for a biosimilar is shorter and less expensive than the original biologic medicine because less research and less clinical trials are needed. As a result, biosimilars are often less expensive. 

My doctor prescribed a biologic. How can I find if a biosimilar is available?

If your healthcare provider recommends a biologic medicine for your condition, ask if a biosimilar is available. 

Additionally, FDA maintains a list of biosimilar medications that have been approved for use in a variety of conditions. Their chart includes the name of the biosimilar, the reference drug (which is the original biologic), the date approved, and a link to more information, where applicable. 

Does insurance reimburse for biosimilars?

Insurance coverage of biosimilars may vary between health plans. Some may consider biosimilars a preferred medicine, others may not. Some of the reasons behind the variation include characteristics of the biosimilar, what the medication is designed to treat, and how long it has had regulatory approval (such as through FDA).