Millions of Americans suffer from serious, debilitating and sometimes life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases. Most of them are treated with biologic medicines, cutting-edge drugs that are manufactured with living cells rather than chemicals and that target the illness in ways chemical drugs cannot. These medicines can be wondrously effective. But they also can be expensive.
Just as generics increased access to medications by reducing costs, more affordable versions of biologic medications soon will be made available to patients through the introduction of biosimilars. Biosimilars have been used in the European Union for years and are expected to be available in the U.S. starting as soon as next year.
But unlike traditional generics whose chemical makeups are near duplicates of their name-brand counterparts, biosimilars are reproductions of biologic medicines that are not exactly identical to their brand-name counterparts. They are tremendously complex, and small differences between them and the originals can have a big impact on safety and efficacy.
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