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People with rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases can take generic biosimilar versions of anti-TNF therapies with full confidence that they will be just as effective as the original branded versions.
This is according to a new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the US, which has offered evidence that generic forms of biologic drugs offer the same benefits as their more established counterparts - but at a much lower cost.
Positive results from head-to-head comparisons
Biologic therapies are medicines made from living cells, with this category including anti-TNFs, one of the most effective classes of drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis.
These therapies are complex and expensive to produce, but in the last few years, many firms have been producing biosimilars - generic products that mirror the performance of the original drugs for a lower price - once the patents on the established brand-name drugs have expired.
For this study, the researchers drew data from 19 studies directly comparing original and biosimilar forms of anti-TNF therapies, with results published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showing that the biosimilar drugs offered very similar safety and effectiveness to their branded counterparts.
Benefits in terms of cost and accessibility
This study only applies to anti-TNFs, underlining the need for further research on whether other biosimilar products - such as biosimilar insulins - work as well as their branded counterparts.
Nevertheless, the results show that rheumatoid arthritis patients at least can benefit from the availability of effective therapy options at a lower cost, meaning more people may be able to access the drugs without placing an excessive burden on healthcare services.
Study leader Dr Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness, said: "Hopefully this will encourage the brisk adoption of these products. There is no question that greater competition in this market will benefit patients, prescribers and society in the long run."
The Arthritis Research UK view
Dr Natalie Carter, head of research and evaluation at the charity Arthritis Research UK; said: "This article pulls together many international studies for comparison. The findings indicate that biosimilars are interchangeable with their anti-TNF predecessors, which is great news. However, these are small sample sizes and more research needs to be done to understand their suitability for the millions of people living with the daily pain caused by arthritis.
"Arthritis Research UK has been at the forefront of research into anti-TNF biological therapies since research funded by the charity pioneered it in the 1990s. We welcome the continued development of biosimilars that have the potential to bring greater choice of treatment to people with inflammatory arthritis.
"As a charity we are working to ensure that people who choose to use biosimilars have the information and support they need to make informed decisions about these treatments."
Arthritis is by definition the inflammation of one or more joints, characterized by swelling, pain, warmth, redness and diminished range of joint movement (Oxford Medical Dictionary). There are many different types; Noninflammatory; Osteoarthritis, N...
A generic drug (generic drugs, short: generics) is a drug defined as "a drug product that is comparable to brand/reference listed drug product in dosage form, strength, route of administration, quality and performance characteristics, and intended u...
Biosimilars or Follow-on biologics are terms used to describe officially approved subsequent versions of innovator biopharmaceutical products made by a different sponsor following patent and exclusivity expiry on the innovator product. Products that ar...