Biosimilars are a cost-effective option among biological medicines

Thanks to biosimilars, an increasing number of patients can receive effective care at a lower pharmaceutical cost.

A biosimilar is a biological medicine that is clinically similar to a proprietary biological medicine. The active substance in both medicines is the same, but its version is different.

In practice, biosimilars are as effective, safe and high quality as the proprietary medicine, and they are subject to the same dosage instructions and warnings as the proprietary medicine. However, a biosimilar is not a generic substitute or synonymous preparation for the proprietary medicine.

At present, Orion manufactures three biosimilars for the Finnish market for the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

A biosimilar lowers pharmaceutical costs and offers more treatment options

Biological medicines are efficient but expensive. In 2017, eight out of the top ten best-selling drugs in Finland were biological medicines. This indicates the high price of the medicines, but also the growing number of users of them.

Since the product development of biosimilars is largely based on information obtained on the proprietary medicine, the price of biosimilars is significantly lower than that of the proprietary preparation for as long the latter is protected by a patent. Furthermore, Finnish legislation requires that the first biosimilar accepted into the Finnish medicine reimbursement system be at least 30% cheaper than the proprietary medicine.

Since in practice a biosimilar is equivalent to the corresponding proprietary medicine but cheaper, it is more cost-effective. Therefore, a biosimilar can treat a larger number of patients at the same cost, which increases health.

“Furthermore, the savings afforded by biosimilars enable the adoption of new therapies,” says health economist Akseli Kivioja.

When a biosimilar enters the market, the price of the proprietary medicine also falls, which lowers pharmaceutical costs and increases the number of therapeutic options.

Biosimilars have demonstrated their efficacy in the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases

An example of how biosimilars are used in Finland is the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases, i.e. ulcerating colitis and Crohn’s disease, at Helsinki University Hospital, HUS. Both diseases typically appear when the patients are young, around 20 to 30 years of age, and there is no curative treatment. As a result, the diseases create a heavy burden for both the healthcare system and the patient, which is why effective treatments are in high demand.

Inflammatory bowel diseases are becoming more and more prevalent in Finland and other Western countries, with the current number of patients in Finland being approximately 48,000. Around 2,000 new cases are diagnosed every year. Biological medicines have been used for treating inflammatory bowel diseases for almost two decades, but the high price of these drugs poses a challenge. When the first biosimilars were introduced on the market, HUS adopted them immediately.

“We had long-term experience of biological medicines, so we were certain we would notice if biosimilars were less safe and effective than the proprietary medicines," says Adjunct Professor (Docent) Perttu Arkkila.

However, studies showed that the concentration, side effects profile and efficacy of the biosimilars equal those of the proprietary medicines. The patients’ quality of life also remains equally good.

“Biosimilars enable us to treat a larger number of patients”, Arkkila summarizes.



Text by Suvi Huttunen