Health Experts Agree Increasing Biosimilar Use Can Help Reduce Rising Drug Costs for Patients

Yesterday, notable health leaders spoke about the importance of increasing biosimilars to lower health care costs during a POLITICO panel event sponsored by the Biosimilars Forum. Panelists included Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO), Health and Human Services (HHS) official John O’Brien, University of Pittsburgh Professor Inmaculada Hernández, an expert in pharmacy and therapeutics policy, and Leslie Ritter of the National MS Society. The conversation identified the obstacles that biosimilars face in the U.S. from misinformation campaigns to market barriers, it also highlighted the need for patient and physician incentives to increase these lower cost therapy options and save billions in health care dollars.

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“The Biosimilars Forum is focused on bringing lower-cost treatments to patients, especially those in the U.S. We believe more patients should have access to treatment options that are safe, effective and more affordable,” said Sheila Frame, Vice President and Head of Biopharmaceuticals at Sandoz and member of the Biosimilars Forum. “As policymakers debate ways to bring savings to patients, I’m here to tell you that biosimilars need to be a part of the solution.”

“…There have been reports of, we’ll just say, campaigns or misinformation campaigns to discourage providers from feeling comfortable with the science that supports biosimilars,” said John O’Brien, Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Drug Pricing Reform, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “And I think some have begun to look into that. To those who are actively trying to discourage physicians from using biosimilars, we think ultimately, you’re on the wrong side of history.”

“In Europe, prescribers have a lot of incentives to prescribe generics and biosimilars. They have quotas in some cases, they have a prescribed budget where they have basically how much money they can spend on their patients. So I think the incentives for use of the biosimilars happen more at the prescriber level than the payer level.” said Inmaculada Hernández, Assistant Professor of Pharmacy and Therapeutics, University of Pittsburgh. “There is a lot of lessons learned from Europe, but probably the most relevant one is safety. They have been using 60 biosimilars with absolutely no safety concerns. So, I think that really transfers as biosimilars work the same in Europe as here.”

“MS drug costs are a prime example of where we haven’t seen competition for lower prices,” said Leslie Ritter, National MS Society. “If a biosimilar comes on market 15 to 20 percent lower that is still a cost savings for people who are really, really struggling to afford their health care costs. In the MS experience, you may be on a disease modifying therapy that costs sixty to seventy, eighty thousand dollars a year but you’re taking other medications as well. Even if it is 15 to 20 percent less costs it still allows to you afford something else you need, a symptom management drug that is often expensive as well.”

“The key really is giving the market a chance to work,” said Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO). “If a biosimilar is 15 to 20 percent lower but if the negotiated price is lower for the original drug, then you’re not going to see any competitive impact for these biosimilars. Because of the lack of robust competition with biosimilars, that’s where we are in the market right now.”

The full panel discussion can be viewed here.

Currently, biologics are the biggest driver of drug spending in the Medicare program. Despite being FDA approved, equally safe and effective, and lower in cost than specialty biologics, biosimilars have faced barriers in the public and private insurance markets, preventing their rapid adoption in the U.S.

Last month, the Biosimilars Forum released scoring for three policy proposals that would increase use of and patient access to biosimilars and called on Congress to consider the policies to lower health care costs for seniors and taxpayers. One policy that would directly reduce patient out-of-pocket costs for biosimilars in Medicare Part B is estimated to save up to 5.2 billion in federal health care costs and beneficiaries, many seniors on fixed income, up to $3.3B over 10 years.