Tony Hagen is senior managing editor for The Center for Biosimilars®.
In the EU-5 group of countries, biosimilar awareness is poor, hindering uptake of these potentially cost-saving medicines, a white paper states.
In developing a perspective on biosimilar awareness in Europe, Samsung Bioepis started with a hypothesis that it ended up disproving—namely, that biosimilars are well known and understood by both patients and health care providers (HCPs).
“Overall, our findings show that the biosimilar conversation in both the media and among key opinion leaders is immature,” the Incheon, Repubic of Korea, biosimilar development company concluded in a white paper.
Not Enough Explaining
European physicians don’t appear to be doing enough to inform patients about biosimilars, even though patients are better informed now than in the past and often come to clinic appointments prepared with their own research on treatment options, the report said. But patients themselves often do not understand what biosimilars are—that they offer comparable safety and efficacy to reference brands and may represent a potential for health care savings.
“Biosimilar education for HCPs and patients remains one of the keys to unlocking the true potential of biosimilars in Europe,” the authors wrote. “Put simply, HCPs need to fully understand the merits and value of each individual biosimilar, while patients need to feel confident in the treatment that they are prescribed.”
What’s preventing broader awareness of biosimilars and higher utilization are knowledge gaps and approaches to disseminating information that are inadequate, the authors said. For example, in Italy, 80% of HCPs surveyed said they don’t have basic information about what biosimilars contain and how they function.
Authors of the white paper used crowdsourcing to learn about biosimilar awareness in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. This involved a study of biosimilar mentions across media outlets and in conversations engaged in by HCPs, academics, journalists, patient advocates, and drug policy experts. This information was supplemented by a series of 3 panel discussions with HCPs.
Across the Board
“We found that a lack of understanding prevails across all countries, with HCPs aware that the prescription rules are shifting at pace but unsure what comes next,” the authors said.
The white paper said the strongest voices for biosimilars were found amongst patient advocacy groups, “especially when there are new treatments in their therapy area.” However, the report said even this advocacy often falls short of hoped-for outcomes.
Efforts have been made to facilitate a more robust dialogue between providers and patients about the merits of biosimilars, but in many cases there is no conversation at all, according to the white paper. “Despite 77% of patients being switched from a reference biologic drug to a biosimilar, only 51% had received any explanation for the switch,” according to a survey of patients in Italy cited by the authors.
The report also said that without physician support in the form of a biosimilar discussion, the nocebo effect, where a patient’s negative expectations affect outcomes, is liable to frustrate goals of care. Further, among HCPs, “many believe that the more you pay for a drug, the better it will perform.”
Much can be achieved by creating educational materials and programs that HCPs will find digestible, given their busy schedules, the report said. “Many physicians are too busy to study in-depth clinical trials data and would prefer to see easily digestible educational materials on biosimilars’ safety, equivalence, and cost savings.”