Looking at a broader canvas, on September 19, 2023, a credible international report flashed a headline, ‘Biosimilars making inroads into Humira sales, but docs still cautious on switching: Spherix.’ This is based on a survey of U.S. healthcare specialists, including 80 dermatologists, 83 gastroenterologists and 81 rheumatologists.
This is indeed a significant development in the realm of biologic and biosimilar drugs, internationally. If this trend gathers a strong wind on its sales, it will effectively address the need for affordable biologic drugs, especially in life threatening ailments.
According to another January 05, 2023 report, Humira, which dominated the top of the global pharmaceutical brand ranking charts between 2012 and 2022, has slipped in 2023 to no 3 in ranking as it lost its last patent protection in the US in May 2022. Doctors’ gradual acceptance of biosimilars and the price could be a key differentiator among the competitors, potentially hastening Humira’s sales decline.
On July 31, 2017, I wrote an article in this blog captioned “Improving Patient Access To Biosimilar Drugs: Two Key Barriers.” Interestingly, 6 years down the line, reflecting the same sentiment – the above September 19, 2023, report also noted that ‘efficacy remains “top of mind” as prescribers’ leading concern for adalimumab (Humira) biosimilars, followed by safety concerns and an overall lack of cost savings.’
In today’s article, I shall particularly focus on the latest developments in India and the initiatives taken by the concerned stakeholders in this area. Let me start with a quick recap of biosimilar drugs, in my understanding, so that we all are on the same page while discussing the subject.
A quick recap:
As we know, biologic drugs are medicines made from living organisms, such as bacteria, yeast, or cells. They are used to treat a wide range of conditions, including cancer, autoimmune diseases, and infectious diseases. Biosimilar drugs are highly similar copies of original biologic drugs that have gone off patent and are typically less expensive than the original biologic drugs. However, there are still some existing barriers to doctors’ fast and wider acceptance of biosimilar drugs by many.
Current global barriers to doctors’ fast acceptance of biosimilar drugs:
- Lack of awareness and education: Many doctors are not familiar with biosimilar drugs or the regulatory process that oversees them. This lack of awareness may lead to skepticism and hesitation about prescribing biosimilar drugs to patients.
- Concerns about safety and efficacy: Some doctors are concerned that biosimilar drugs may not be as safe or effective as biologic drugs. These concerns are often based on a misunderstanding of the regulatory process for biosimilar drugs.
- Financial incentives: Some doctors may be reluctant to prescribe biosimilar drugs because they receive financial incentives from biologic drug manufacturers. These incentives can take the form of speaking fees, consulting fees, and research grants.
- Regulatory uncertainty: In some countries, the regulatory framework for biosimilar drugs is still evolving. This uncertainty can make it difficult for doctors to know which biosimilar drugs are safe and effective, and how to use them effectively.
Some contemporary examples show that these barriers still exist:
As shown by the following contemporary data available to the public:
- In 2022, a study published in the journal JAMA found that only 25% of US doctors were aware that biosimilar drugs are just as safe and effective as biologic drugs.
- In 2023, a study published in the journal Annals of Rheumatic Diseases found that only 30% of rheumatologists in the UK were willing to prescribe biosimilar drugs to their patients.
- In 2023, a study published in the journal Cancer found that oncologists in the US were more likely to prescribe biologic drugs to their patients if they had received financial incentives from biologic drug manufacturers.
- In 2023, a report published by the European Commission found that the regulatory framework for biosimilar drugs in the EU is still complex and fragmented.
Measures being taken to address these barriers, globally?
There are a number of things that can be done to address the barriers to doctors’ fast acceptance of biosimilar drugs. These include:
- Education and outreach: More needs to be done to educate doctors about biosimilar drugs and the regulatory process that oversees them. This education should come from a variety of sources, including medical schools, professional organizations, and pharmaceutical companies.
- Financial transparency: Pharmaceutical companies should be required to disclose all financial payments they make to doctors. This transparency will help to reduce the potential for conflicts of interest.
- Regulatory harmonization: The EU should work to harmonize the regulatory framework for biosimilar drugs across member states. This will make it easier for doctors to prescribe biosimilar drugs to their patients.
By addressing these barriers, it is possible to increase the acceptance of biosimilar drugs and make them more accessible to patients. This will lead to lower healthcare costs and improved patient outcomes.
Indian scenario of biosimilar drugs, issues and actions:
As reported, India is a global leader in the production and development of biosimilar drugs. The Indian biosimilar market is expected to reach $30 billion by 2025. Biosimilar drugs in India are typically 30-70% cheaper than original biologic drugs. For example, a vial of the biologic drug Herceptin costs around INR 1 lakh, while a vial of the biosimilar drug Trastuzumab costs around INR 30,000.
The key reasons for price arbitrage:
The price difference between biosimilar drugs and original biologic drugs is due to a number of factors, including:
- Lower development costs: Biosimilar drugs are less expensive to develop than original biologic drugs because they do not require the same level of research and clinical trials.
- Increased competition: There is more competition among biosimilar manufacturers, which drives down prices.
- Government support: The Indian government provides financial incentives to biosimilar manufacturers, which also helps to keep prices low.
Biologic drugs, especially biosimilar insulin, some medications for cancer and a variety of autoimmune diseases, have been proved to be very effective for patients. That said, original biologic drugs can also be very expensive. Biosimilar drugs are making these drugs more affordable for patients.
Indian stakeholder initiatives and support is essential:
Indian key stakeholders are also supportive of the biosimilar industry and have taken a number of steps to promote its growth. Some of the recent ones are:
- In 2022, the Indian government announced a new policy that will give preference to biosimilar drugs in government procurement. This policy is expected to save the government billions of dollars in healthcare costs.
- In 2023, the Indian government launched a new awareness campaign to promote the use of biosimilar drugs. The campaign is targeting doctors, patients, and healthcare policymakers.
- In 2023, a number of leading private hospitals in India announced that they would be switching to biosimilar drugs for a range of conditions. These hospitals include Apollo Hospitals, Fortis Healthcare, and Max Healthcare.
- In 2023, the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA) released a report that found that the use of biosimilar drugs in India had increased by 20% in the past year. The report also found that the use of biosimilar drugs was expected to continue to grow in the coming years.
These are just a few examples of the growing acceptance of biosimilar drugs in India. As more and more doctors and patients become aware of the benefits of biosimilar drugs, we can expect to see their use continue to grow in the coming years.
State-specific advantages for greater acceptance of biosimilar drugs in India:
As available from different reports, the following are some specific examples of state-specific advantages that have led to the greater acceptance of biosimilar drugs in India:
- In 2022, the government of Maharashtra launched a scheme to provide financial incentives to doctors who prescribe biosimilar drugs. Under the scheme, doctors who prescribe biosimilar drugs to at least 20% of their patients are eligible to receive a bonus of up to INR 10,000 per month.
- In 2023, the government of Gujarat launched a campaign called “Biosimilar Drugs: Safe, Effective, and Affordable.” The campaign aims to educate doctors and patients about the benefits of biosimilar drugs and to dispel any myths or misconceptions about them.
- The states of Karnataka and Telangana have a number of leading biopharmaceutical companies that are developing and manufacturing biosimilar drugs. These companies are working with doctors and hospitals in these states to promote the use of biosimilar drugs.
As a result of these advantages, the acceptance of biosimilar drugs is growing rapidly in some states in India. For example, in Maharashtra, the use of biosimilar drugs increased by 25% in the past year.
Against the above backdrop, I reckon, the acceptance of biosimilar drugs is gaining steam in India now. This is due to a number of factors, including rising costs of original biologic drugs, government support, growing availability of biosimilar drugs, and increasing awareness and education.
It is important to note that biosimilar drugs are just as safe and effective as original biologic drugs, but they are much more affordable. This is making it possible for more patients to access the treatment they need, especially for life-threatening ailments.
By: Tapan J. Ray
Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.