Why are biosimilar medicines important?

Page last updated: 23 March 2017

Graphic that illustrates how biosimilar medicines are beneficial to the healthcare system, because they provide more treatment options for patients, which results in better health care. Any money saved from using biosimilar medicines can be re-invested to make health care even better in the future.

Biological medicines are expensive, and are often the only treatments available to patients living with the most severe diseases. In Australia, most medicines are subsidised through the PBS. The introduction of biosimilar medicines introduces competition into the market and lowers prices. This makes these medicines more affordable to the system and ensures that the PBS will be sustainable in the future. The money that is saved by using biosimilar medicines can also be used to subsidise more medicines for more patients, or to improve other areas of health care.

Biological medicines have grown from about 4 per cent of the PBS budget 10 years ago to about 25 per cent in 2015. Biological medicines cost the taxpayer about $2.3 billion in 2013–14. Five of the top 10 medicines subsidised by the PBS are biological medicines, which would cost patients between $400 and $1700 per treatment without taxpayer subsidy.

The introduction of biosimilar medicines can also expand the treatment options by making formerly expensive medicines affordable. For example, chemotherapy treatment for patients with cancer can lower the white blood cell count. This can be prevented and treated with filgrastims such as Neupogen®, which stimulate white blood cell production. Because of its high price, Neupogen® is often used only after chemotherapy has begun, once the white blood cell count has already fallen. In the United Kingdom, the availability of a biosimilar filgrastim has lowered the price, which allowed doctors to use this as a primary treatment to prevent infection and readmission to hospital.[1]

An additional benefit is that the addition of biosimilar medicines to the market reduces the potential for medicine shortages by making more brands available.

[1] International Alliance of Patients’ Organizations (2013). Briefing paper on biological and biosimilar medicines, IAPO, London.

The introduction of biosimilar medicines has already had a significant impact on health care costs and patient care:

  • The use of biosimilar medicines is expected to save AUS$2.5 billion to AUS$46.8 billion for eight European Union countries between 2007 and 2020.[1]
  • The introduction of the biosimilar medicine filgrastim increased patient access by 44 per cent in the European Union between 2006 and 2013.[2]

Future savings are likely to be substantial, especially as more biosimilar medicines become available on markets across the world.

As more biosimilar medicines become available, there may be opportunities for manufacturers to improve packaging and administration methods for these medicines. For example, one brand of biosimilar filgrastim currently being produced in Europe comes with a ‘patient support kit’ that allows patients to self-administer the medicine at home, instead of having to go to a clinic or hospital.[3] This could allow for biosimilar medicines to be used in primary care settings or in the home, instead of hospital settings, and could improve patient adherence to medication.

[1] Haustein R, de Millas C, Hoeer A, Haeussler B (2011). Saving money in the European healthcare systems with biosimilars, IGES Institute, Berlin.

[2] IMS Institute (2016). Delivering on the potential of biosimilar medicines: the role of functioning competitive markets, IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, New Jersey.

[3] Generics and Biosimilars Initiative (2013). Biosimilar G-CSF prescribed more than originator, GaBI.

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