Picture this: You go to the pharmacy to get the medicine prescribed by your doctor. The pharmacist asks if you would like the cheapest version, which only costs 1/3 compared to the most expensive one.
And you are in doubt. On one hand, you would like to save money on medicine and spend them on something a bit more fun. On the other hand, it feels like a risk to take. It is reasonable to think that the more expensive drug is of higher quality, and the company behind it has used more money on development.
Does this sound familiar? Don’t you worry. You will not have second thoughts the next time you visit the pharmacy, after reading this article.
When a biological medicine (produced by a living organism) is developed, the patent application starts from the first day of development. Since the production, approval and distribution takes several years, pharma companies only have a few years to sell the drug, before the patent expires. After this, other companies have the right to produce drugs with the same active component – also called biosimilars. These companies skip the expensive development and can thus offer the biosimilar at a lower price than the company that developed the original drug.
Any reason to be scared?
Before a biosimilar drug can be sold it must be extensively tested and approved by the health organizations FDA (USA) and EMA (Europe). Firstly, it must be tested and proven whether the active substance works just as good as in the original drug. Secondly, the biosimilar’s content is analyzed for foreign substances. Some of these may arise from the living organisms, such as yeast or bacteria, used to produce the active substance. Such an analysis of process-related impurities is performed to ensure that patients do not have to worry at intake.
To sum up, biosimilars are (as the name implies) a copy of the original drug that has been tested and approved to function in the same way as the expensive original. Therefore, it is safe for you to choose the cheapest alternative the next time you’re at the pharmacy. It is however worth mentioning that your pharmacist can consult you in this process, if a more expensive version is suited better to your medication profile. An example of this is contraceptive pills for birth control, where there is a small difference between manufacturers. You will have to try several out to find the one that suits you the best. Talk to your pharmacist about this and decide from there.