Advocacy Update - Biosimilars

By Franca Marine - Arthritis Australia

The advent of biosimilars heralds a new era in biologic therapy for auto-immune forms of arthritis.  But government moves to drive the uptake of biosimilars to achieve budget savings have raised concerns. What does it all mean for health consumers? 

Biologic medicines for the treatment of auto-immune forms of arthritis have been available in Australia since 2003. These medicines have helped to revolutionise the treatment of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile arthritis, reducing disability and improving quality of life for many. 

The patents for many biologics used for arthritis are now starting to expire in Australia and copies, known as biosimilars, are beginning to enter the market.  A biosimilar of infliximab, the first for a biologic used to treat arthritis, has just been approved for use and subsidy in Australia, and will be available soon.  Other biosimilars are expected to come onto the market in the next couple of years.

The introduction of biosimilars has been widely welcomed because it offers the potential to reduce costs for both the health consumer and the Government, so more people may be able to start using these medications. Less welcome, however, are measures which will allow pharmacists to substitute a biosimilar for the original biologic medicine, as they do with generic medicines. This means that your pharmacist may in fact give you a biosimilar medicine (if available) rather than your usual biologic without you or your doctor realising.

5 things you can do to make sure you get the right medicine

Both prescribers and consumers will still have the right to veto biosimilar substitution at the pharmacy level, but it is important that this is an informed choice. To make sure you get the right medicine:

  1. Talk to your rheumatologist about your biologic medication and whether a biosimilar is available and might be right for you.
  2. Decide in consultation with your rheumatologist whether you should keep taking the same brand of biologic/biosimilar medicine or whether it could be substituted. 
  3. If you both decide that you need to keep taking the same brand of medication, make sure your rheumatologist ticks the ‘Do not substitute’ box on your script. Tell your pharmacist that you want the medication that is on the script and that you do not authorise any substitution.
  4. Check the package of your medication when you collect it from your pharmacist and keep a record of its name so you know what brand of medicine you are taking.
  5. Keep informed about this issue by visiting www.arthritis.org.au