Louis Tharp, cofounder and executive director of the Global Healthy Living Foundation, discusses lessons learned from international experience with biosimilar uptake.
What have we learned about the uptake of biosimilars in other nations?
We’ve learned a lot about biosimilars from Europe and from Asia. They’ve been there for at least a decade. But, when it comes to the uptake in the United States, there isn’t as much we can learn because, in Europe and in Asia, they had a more direct way to influence the uptake of biosimilars. That usually occurred because, in many countries, there is a single government entity that’s responsible for buying the drugs. That’s not true in the United States.
In the United States we have a lot of choice, and it’s often times theoretical choice because while there are a lot of advertisements about drugs of all types, our insurance companies help us make the choice—to be kind—by looking primarily at cost. Physicians also direct us. So, where we might have a choice of say 9 biologics for an autoimmune disease, or 2 or 3 biologics for a cancer condition, [but] our physician or our insurance company may drive us to one drug.
We wind up in the same situation that Europe is in, but we get there in a very different way. The difference here—and the important part—is that psychologically, the patient doesn’t get to the same place as the patient in Europe does. Because the patient in Europe walks into the physician’s office, is diagnosed, gets a drug, and begins the treatment.
In the United States, there is a lot more perceived choice and a lot more perceived power on the part of the patient because of all of the advertising that we have now. And so, the patient needs to be able to understand the bigger picture and be able to have confidence in and get behind the treatment protocol that she winds up ultimately getting. And that’s one of the key issues that we deal with within the 50-State Network, which is groups of patient advocates all around the United States, as well as CreakyJoints, the arthritis side of the [Global Healthy Living Foundation]. The objective here is to help the patient understand the bigger picture and help the patient ultimately do well on the drug that they wind up being prescribed.