Frequently Asked Questions
Most drugs are developed in a laboratory through chemical processes. However, a biologic drug is developed using cells from living organisms such as humans, animals, bacteria, and viruses. Through genetic engineering, these cells are modified to target specific molecules in humans that are causing symptoms or disease.
When treating asthma and allergies, a biologic works by targeting specific molecules in the immune system that are causing inflammation. This helps to interrupt the inflammatory process, thus reducing symptoms.
Biologics are given either by an injection or an intravenous infusion. Depending on the biologic, the injection may be available to self-administer at home.
The process for making biologics is very expensive and complex. It basically starts with identifying the specific protein the scientists want to make. They then grow cells in petri dishes containing the gene that makes the specific protein. This becomes their “master cell line.” They then transfer the cells for mass production into a device called a bioreactor. Once it is done growing, the scientists isolate the protein and purify it. It is then prepared for patient use by mixing the protein in a sterile solution that can then be injected or infused.
Lantus insulin is a biologic used to treat diabetes. Humira treats rheumatoid arthritis. Herceptin is used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer.
Biologics for asthma, allergies, eczema and other allergic conditions include:
- Xolair® (omalizumab)
- Nucala® (mepolizumab)
- Cinqair® (reslizumab)
- Fasenra® (benralizumab)
- Dupixent® (dupilumab)
- Tezspire® (tezepelumab)
There are many other biologics out there treating various other diseases.
Traditional medications are manufactured chemically. Biologic medications are created from the cells of living organisms.
Biologics are now available to treat all sorts of diseases, including asthma, allergies, atopic dermatitis, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases and multiple sclerosis.
Whether or not you need a biologic medication is a decision to make between you and your healthcare provider. Biologics are normally used for the treatment of moderate-to-severe asthma. This means they may be beneficial for people whose asthma symptoms are difficult to control with standard medications such as inhalers, or for people frequently using oral corticosteroids (prednisone). Biologics are often used when other treatments are ineffective.
Side effects may vary depending on the medication, but the most common are pain or soreness at the injection site, headache, sore throat and fatigue. Talk with your doctor if side effects from biologics are severe.
Biologics are some of the most expensive medications available. The average cost is between $10,000 and $30,000 per year. Many are covered by insurance, but you may still be responsible for a portion of the cost. Often they require prior authorization from insurance companies. So, prior to starting, make sure you know what your financial responsibility will be. There may also be assistance programs to help afford the cost of the specific medication through the drug manufacturer. See the Resources page for details.
There is no specific length for how long people stay on a biologic. But it is recommended that they stay on them at least 4 months to assess the effectiveness.
The decision to discontinue use of a biologic should only be made with your doctor. Your symptoms may return or worsen if you stop using a biologic. The medication may not work as well if you stop and restart it.
Biologics do not cure diseases. Rather, they help your body target things in your body to treat and manage symptoms. In some cases, it can cause your disease to go into remission.