Oncology biosimilars are entering the Canadian market. BC Cancer is preparing for their availability for cancer patients in British Columbia.
Biologic drugs are medications made from living cells, like animal cells, bacteria, or yeast. Biologic drugs are used to repair, stimulate, or enhance the immune response for the prevention and treatment of various types of cancer. Since biologic drugs are made by living cells, every batch that is made is almost the same.
A biosimilar is a highly similar copy of the reference biologic drug (the original brand name biologic drug). Europe has been using biosimilars for more than 10 years and has approved almost 60 different biosimilars. Health Canada has approved biosimilar treatments for arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriasis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, diabetes and cancer.
Yes. Biosimilars are just as safe and effective as the reference biologic drug, and work the same way as the reference biologic drug. If you were taking a reference biologic drug and are now taking a biosimilar drug, you should expect to have the same results and the same side effects.
Until recently, reference biologic drugs were protected by a patent. Only one company can sell that biologic drug when they are patent-protected, which makes them very expensive. As the patent for reference biologic drugs expire, other companies can start making biosimilars.
Biologic drugs are very expensive to the healthcare system. In 2016, Canada spent more than $3.6 billion on these drugs. Implementation of biosimilars creates cost savings that can be put back into the cancer system to pay for, and improve access to new treatments.
No. Your care will be the same whether you take a reference biologic drug or a biosimilar. As with taking any medications, if you have any problems while taking biosimilars, speak to your healthcare team right away.
Speak to your oncologist, nurse or pharmacist if you have questions about biosimilar drugs.
The following links also provide more information about biosimilar drugs: