Biosimilars and patients: Discussions should address safety, cost, and anxiety about change


Rheumatologist Marcus Snow, MD, is comfortable with prescribing biosimilars as a first-line, first-time biologic, and discussing them with patients.

“If a biosimilar is on the market, it has gone through rigorous study proving its effectiveness and equivalence to a bio-originator,” said Dr. Snow, a rheumatologist with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, and chair of the American College of Rheumatology’s Committee on Rheumatologic Care.

Dr. Marcus Snow

Dr. Marcus Snow

The formulary makes a big difference in the conversation about options, he said. “The formularies dictate what we can prescribe. It may not be appropriate, but it is reality. The cost of biologics for a patient without insurance coverage makes it impossible to afford.”

He will often tell patients that he’ll fight any changes or formulary restrictions he does not agree with. “However, when I see patients in follow-up, even if there is no known change on the horizon, I may bring up biosimilars when we have a moment to chat about them to familiarize them with what may happen in the future.”

The need for patient education on biosimilars presents a barrier to realizing their potential to save money and expand choice, noted Cardinal Health in its 2023 biosimilars report. Of 103 rheumatologists who responded to a Cardinal Health survey, 85% agreed that patient education was important. But those conversations can take an uncomfortable turn if the patient pushes back against taking a biosimilar owing to cost or safety concerns.

It’s not uncommon for a patient to express some anxiety about biosimilars, especially if they’re doing well on a current treatment plan. Most patients do not want any changes that may lead to worsening disease control, Dr. Snow said.

Dr. Sameer Awsare, associate executive director for The Permanente Medical Group in Northern California Kaiser Permanente

Dr. Sameer Awsare

Patients and physicians alike often don’t understand the mechanics of biosimilars. “There’s a lot of misinformation about this,” said Sameer Awsare, MD, an associate executive director for The Permanente Medical Group in Campbell, Calif. Patients should know that a biosimilar will be as clinically efficacious as the medicine they’ve been on, with the same safety profiles, said Dr. Awsare, who works with Kaiser Permanente’s pharmacy partners on biosimilars.

Insurance often drives the conversation

The global anti-inflammatory biologics market is anticipated to reach $150 billion by 2027, according to a recent CVS report. As of March 2023, the Food and Drug Administration had approved 40 biosimilars to 11 different reference products. There are 28 on the U.S. market and 100 more in development. Projected to save more than $180 billion over the next 5 years, they are anticipated to expand choice and drive competition.

Rheumatologists, dermatologists, and gastroenterologists are frequent prescribers, although their choices for immune-mediated inflammatory diseases are limited to tumor necrosis factor inhibitors (infliximab [Remicade] originator and adalimumab [Humira] originator) and anti-CD20 agents, such as rituximab (Rituxan) originator.

Dr. Robert Popovian, chief science policy officer of the Global Healthy Living Foundation

Dr. Robert Popovian

Benefit design or formulary usually dictates what medicine a patient receives. “Because of significantly higher out-of-pocket cost or formulary positioning, patients may end up with a generic or a biosimilar instead of a brand-name medicine or branded biologic,” said Robert Popovian, PharmD, MS, chief science policy officer of the Global Healthy Living Foundation.

Insurers rarely offer both Remicade and biosimilar infliximab, allowing the doctor to choose, said Miguel Regueiro, MD, chair of the Cleveland Clinic’s Digestive Disease & Surgery Institute, who prescribes infliximab biosimilars. Most often, the payer will choose the lower-cost biosimilar. “I am fine with the biosimilar, either as a new start or a switch from the reference product.”

Miguel Regueiro, MD, chair of the Digestive Disease and Surgery Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

Dr. Miguel Regueiro

However, the patient might feel differently. They can form an attachment to the reference medication if it has prevented severe illness. “They do not want to change, as they feel they are going on a ‘new’ medication that will not work as well,” Dr. Regueiro said.

This is where the education comes in: to reassure patients that a biosimilar will work just as well as the reference product. “For patients who have done well for years on a biologic, more time needs to be spent reassuring them and answering questions,” compared with a patient just starting on a biosimilar, he advised.

But not all physicians are quick to prescribe biosimilars.

Dr. Stephanie K. Fabbro, assistant professor at Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown Julie Miller Photography

Dr. Stephanie K. Fabbro

Especially with psoriasis, which has so many strong options for reference drugs, a switch may be hard to justify, said dermatologist Stephanie K. Fabbro, MD, assistant professor at Northeast Ohio Medical University, Rootstown. “If I have a preference, I would rather switch a patient to a drug from a different class without a biosimilar option to reduce the possibility of pushback.”

Dr. Fabbro, part of the core faculty in the Riverside Methodist Hospital Dermatology Residency Program in Columbus, will share data from clinical trials and postmarket surveillance with patients to support her decision.


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