Improving patient & provider education about biosimilars

When biosimilars first entered the market five years ago, I was excited about new treatment options for patients and for more competition to be created in the market. In the years since, we have seen seven biosimilars approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for IBD indications. But despite our efforts to educate patients and caregivers about these drugs, there is still a lot of confusion and even misunderstanding.

We recently surveyed our social media followers to gauge their level of familiarity with and use of biosimilars. When asked if they had ever heard of a biosimilar before, 74% said no. And when we asked if they were currently taking a biosimilar, only 9% said yes.

We wanted to go a step further to see how much our patients truly understand what a biosimilar is, so we asked them. While some people did get the answer correct – biosimilars are designed to be near-identical copies of approved biological therapies called the reference product or the originator drug – the majority did not understand what they were. Here are a few of the responses we received when we asked what comes to mind when you hear the word biosimilar:

  • Something biologically similar to my body composition
  • Chemical mimicking nature
  • Not as good as the real thing but better for insurance companies
  • Microbiome similar to yours
  • A generic that may not work for me
  • A biologic but off-brand
  • A generic form of immunosuppressant medication
  • Patients who have IBD share genetic similarity that will help future people to diagnose them
  • Drug copying another drug

The answers above indicate a need for us to clearly explain biosimilars, address misinformation, and improve patients' understanding of biologics and biosimilars. Simply put, biosimilars are important for the treatment of IBD for a few reasons:

  1. Biosimilars offer you and your healthcare provider additional treatment options for your IBD 
  2. Biosimilars may be a lower-cost option on your insurance plan
  3. Biosimilars create competition within the drug market.  

I want to ensure that patients and caregivers have information about available treatment options and know what questions to consider when working with their healthcare provider to select the right treatment. Deciding on the best treatment for your disease is a complex decision. The straightforward days of your doctor writing a script and you fulfilling it are over. It's vital for IBD patients and caregivers to understand their disease severity and which drugs are most appropriate to treat mild, moderate, and severe Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Also, patients and their providers need to consider lifestyle, including using an injection, swallowing a pill, or regularly receiving an infusion treatment when deciding on the right treatment. You might think the decision-making stops there, but patients and their families need to understand their insurance coverage and what drugs are covered. The Foundation has resources to support patients exploring treatment options and navigating their insurance; however, I'm committed to improving our biosimilar resources.

In addition to educating patients and caregivers, I believe it's essential to share patient stories about selecting their treatment option and switching from an originator drug, like infliximab (Remicade®) and adalimumab (Humira®), to a biosimilar, like infliximab-axxq (Avsola™), infliximab-dyyb (Inflectra™), infliximab-qbtx (IXIFI™), and adalimumab-atto (Amjevita™, which is not currently available in the U.S.). The patient experience is powerful, and sharing these stories will create greater understanding and comfort with biosimilars.  Of course, patient and caregiver education isn't the only thing needed. In addition to educating patients, we will continue to ensure healthcare providers are educated and have updates on the latest biosimilar research and our evolving biosimilar position statement.   

As we enter 2021, I am optimistic that, by working closely with the patient and IBD professional community, we can improve patient and provider knowledge about biosimilars. Sharing patient stories demystifying biosimilars and ultimately equipping patients and caregivers with tools to facilitate conversations with their IBD healthcare provider will help you make the best treatment decision for your needs.

Click here to learn more about biosimilars, including all approved biosimilars for IBD.

Laura Wingate is Senior Vice President, Education, Support, & Advocacy for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation.