Generic, biologic or biosimilar drugs? Here is a quick rundown of these types of prescription drugs to better understand and discuss them with a healthcare professional.

What is a biosimilar drug?

To gain insight on biosimilar drugs, we first need to look at biologic drugs.

Biologic drugs are made from living organisms or their cells. They are used to treat diseases such as:

  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • anemia
  • diabetes
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • psoriasis
  • some forms of cancer

Complex and more expensive to develop, biologic drugs can put pressure on drug insurance plans (private and public). However, their entry into the pharmacological universe is often viewed as a ray of hope for patients who have tried everything to cure (or alleviate) the ills that afflict them.

This is where biosimilar drugs come into the picture (also called similar biologic drugs or subsequent entry biologics). A copy of a biologic drug (or reference biologic drug), a biosimilar drug must be approved by Health Canada before makings its way to your pharmacist.

A biosimilar drug can only enter the market after patents for the reference biologic drug have expired.

And generic drugs?

Biosimilar drugs and generic drugs can treat the same diseases and have similar effects. Their differences lie in the ingredients they contain.

Biosimilar drugs are made from living cells while generic drugs are made from chemical ingredients.

The difference between a biologic and biosimilar drug

They have a similar chemical composition and effectiveness that must be proven by rigorous studies before they can receive Health Canada’s approval to be sold.

Where they are different is in their manufacturing costs.

The manufacturer of a biologic drug invests a lot of money in research and development before reaching the final stage of getting their product to market. They obtain a patent only after receiving approval from Health Canada to market their drug.

When a patent expires, the competition is then free to copy the drug without having to invest as much money as the original manufacturer to develop a biosimilar drug.

Here is one reason that explains why a biosimilar drug costs less than biologic one.

Biologic or biosimilar drug: what to choose?

There is no simple answer to this question as there are many factors to consider.

Just because a biosimilar drug exists on the market is no reason to automatically choose it over a biologic drug.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist to learn whether it is preferable to choose a biologic or biosimilar drug. Close monitoring is essential to determine if you are responding well to the new drug.