Generic forms of a biologic drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis appear to be as safe and effective as their brand-name counterparts, a new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health analysis suggests.
Biologics, or medical products made from living cells, are the fastest growing sector of the pharmaceutical market. These drugs are complicated to manufacture and companies have argued that generic forms – while they would be cheaper for consumers and the health care system – cannot be considered interchangeable with established drugs that have been on the market for years. The new findings, published Aug. 2 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, come at a time when many of these biologics are coming off patent, and generic versions – known as biosimilars – could save a lot of money.
“The billion-dollar question has been whether these ‘generic biologics’ are the same as the brand-name versions,” says study leader Dr. G. Caleb Alexander, an associate professor in the department of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness. “The same debate occurred with the advent of less complicated generic drugs and now it’s being hashed out all over again with much more at stake – more room for error and more potential for cost savings to the health system. But based on the available evidence, we conclude that the products we studied appear comparable, and they will definitely be cheaper.”