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The Case for Competing Medicines from Big Pharma & the Rise of the Biosimilar

As baby boomers get older, the problem for health plan providers like BlueShield is the rising cost of medicine. The improved longevity of the current seniors who live longer while requiring more medical interventions and medicines in their silver years puts a considerable strain on healthcare facilities, insurers and plan providers alike.

What Can Happen When a New Competing Medicine is Launched

Many drugs stand alone as the sole solution to a medical problem. Sometimes, a competing pharmaceutical company manages to have a new medicine that completes its early trials and receives approval from the FDA to be marketed in the US. Once launched, the single medicine from one company now has some competition.

The second medicine and the company behind it, keen to make a splash, will often promote heavily through hospitals and networks of doctors to have their medicine prescribed. Sometimes this includes offering the medicine at a lower price point than the original drug is still being sold for.

Does Competing Medicine Brands Help Patients?

For consumers, competition is usually an effective driver to bring prices down. There is some excitement in the rheumatoid arthritis field currently because while one of the main drugs for effective treatment, Humira from AbbVie (formerly owned by Abbott Laboratories), is extremely costly and will soon have some competition. Some estimates run at over $5,400 per month for ongoing Humira treatment through subcutaneous injection outside of a health plan.

The recently approved new drug, Amjevita (retail name to be established later) from Amgen, is expected to start being marketed within the next 2-4 years. Given the high cost of a course of Humira (medically known as adalimumab), it is widely hoped that the second major drug to help rheumatoid arthritis patients will begin bringing down the cost of treatment for this disease. See Beacon Transcript to learn more about this story.

The Advent of Generics & Biosimilars

Humira was first introduced in 2002 and came off-patent in 2016. In India, where both generics and biosimilars are gaining in popularity, several drug makers set about producing a biosimilar version of adalimumab for distribution there. Cadila Healthcare was first to launch their Exemptia in late 2014, costing just 20 percent of the price for the U.S. alternative. Torrent Pharmaceuticals later launched their biosimilar, Adfrar, in early 2016 (a biosimilar is a closer “fingerprint” copy of the original medication compared to a generic version, which is a less exacting match).

For American baby boomers and younger people who suffer from arthritis and are hoping for some relief from their symptoms, the wait is on to see what price Amjevita from Amgen will be sold at. It depends on their healthcare plan whether some or all of the cost of medication will be covered, which means that some sufferers will be able to afford the medicine while others cannot. Such is the reality of modern medicine today.

It’s certainly true that will the increased investment in pharmaceutical companies willing to produce biosimilars and generic medicine, the cost of treatment falls. For people able to make the trip over the border into Mexico, whole border towns like Abegdones are virtually set up to provide medical tourism by selling U.S. prescription medicine in bulk at discount prices, offering cheaper dentistry work or replacing your eyeglasses or contact lenses at a considerable discount compared to the price just across the border.



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