On February 2 we mark Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Awareness Day and shine a light on the roughly 1.5 million Americans dealing with the disease. This year’s commemoration carries a new significance and reason for optimism. That’s because preparations are underway to ensure that, RA patients in the U.S. who take brand-name Humira will finally have access to FDA-approved, more affordable biosimilar versions of their medicine next year.
RA is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease that causes swelling, stiffness and intense pain in joints across the body. There’s no cure for this disease, but there are a number of effective treatments that can manage symptoms. The most common is adalimumab, is a biologic medicined which has been extremely effective for many patients. However, the brand version, Humira, has a steep price tag that places a significant burden on patients and the health care system. In fact, Humira makes more annually for manufacturer AbbVie than all of the NFL teams make combined.
In 2023, biosimilars will bring relief.
Biosimilars are highly similar versions of complex biologic medicines that are used to treat chronic illnesses, including RA. These medicines undergo the same rigorous FDA testing for safety and efficacy as other medicines, but they carry significantly lower prices than brand-name biologics. Much like generic medicines have done in the small-molecule drug space for decades, the entry of biosimilar competition in the biologic marketplace drives down costs and increases available treatment for patients.
According to the Association for Accessible Medicine’s 2021 Generic and Biosimilar Savings in the U.S. Report, biosimilars have generated significant savings and increased treatment options for millions of patients across a spectrum of conditions. Since the first biosimilar launched in 2015, patients and the health care system have saved $12.6 billion. By 2025, savings are expected to rise to more than $130 billion as more biosimilars come to market. Additionally, data from IQVIA finds biosimilars have been used in over 121 million patient days of therapy, and actually generated an additional 10 million days – meaning more patients were able to get treatment than previously.
Unfortunately, RA patients who take Humira have so far been unable to reap the incredible savings benefits of biosimilar access. However, thanks to pro-consumer patent settlements, multiple biosimilars of Humira will launch next year. This competition will drive down overall prices and spending for RA treatments as has occurred when biosimilars have launched in other therapeutic areas.
While RA patients can be reassured that more affordable treatments are on the way, not all patients of chronic illnesses can be. Lawmakers, regulators and industry stakeholders need to work together to address barriers to biosimilar competition, continue to educate on their role in treatment and support measures that increase utilization and lower costs. The Biosimilars Council is proud to partner with patient advocates and the organizations that represent them to ensure greater access to more affordable biosimilar treatments, so that patients with RA and other conditions can enjoy the quality of life they deserve without the financial burdens imposed by brand monopolies.