Stephen Marmaras, director of policy and advocacy for the Global Healthy Living Foundation, explains what patients will need to feel comfortable with switching to a biosimilar.
How do patients feel about the idea of switching to a biosimilar from their existing biologic therapy?
They don’t feel great about it. When I talk to patients and when my colleagues talk to patients within our 50-State Network, which is really a collection of advocates all across the country in all 50 states, they tell us that it causes them anxiety. I think that’s really what informed my earlier point about education being so important here. We have a mountain to climb in terms of the understanding of biosimilars currently with patients.
Oftentimes, the folks that we work with every day, it’s taken them years, if not a decade, to find a biologic therapy that works for them. They’ve tried in some cases, 5 or 6 drugs and they’ve finally found 1—they finally found this oasis where they’ve gotten freedoms back, they’ve gotten their lives back. I think that for many people, these drugs are not [just] drugs, they represent something completely different, they represent their independence, they represent a life before disease.
When you tell a patient “We have this new, cheaper option that’s similar but not the same, it’s likely to produce the same results as the other one,” you put yourself in their shoes. Imagine yourself going through the 10 years of struggle to finally get something that works, and now they’re supposed to roll the dice and take a gamble on a drug that someone else is telling them works the same.
I think we have to answer that question for them. We have to be able to prove in a very succinct way that they should be confident in that switch. But most importantly, we have to be able to show them how they’re going to benefit other than just physically, because they’re the ones that are taking that risk, they’re the ones that are rolling those dice. They’re the ones that are going to be either self-injecting with the drug or sitting in an infusion chair.
What benefit do they get beyond just your promise that it’s going to work the same? What actual savings are they going to feel? Are they going to have similar co-pay assistance programs? We talked about co-pay assistance programs earlier and how important they are for patients to get access. Are they going to have the same sort of general support services, hotlines that they can call if they don’t know how to use their auto-injector or if they have a question about an infusion that they just had.
Patients have begun to rely on not just the drug but kind of everything that goes along with it. So, that’s our concern about biosimilars: we need to be able to show patients that all of that is going to be the same. Not just the result. And then some: you’re also going to be able to feel a benefit in your purse or in your wallet.