Most breasties haven’t heard the term biosimilar. Did you know, for example, that you may have another option when the cost of chemotherapy is too high or a specific treatment side effect becomes debilitating?
Over the past few years, more and more breasties have been receiving biosimilars during treatment. But many breasties, like Martha Carlson, are “not prepared to be sitting in the chair and suddenly receiving a biosimilar without a conversation ahead of time.”
Here’s everything you need to know about biosimilars and why they matter in breast cancer treatment:
What are biosimilars?
Biosimilars weren’t widely made or used until after the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act was passed as part of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Even then, biosimilars have only begun to reach patients in the last few years.
Erika Brown, PharmD, BCOP—a Senior Clinical Pharmacy Specialist in hematology and oncology at Houston Methodist Willowbrook Hospital—usually explains biosimilars by way of generics.
When you reach for acetaminophen at the store, you can choose between Tylenol or the generic store brand. In fact, most over-the-counter drugs have a brand name and a generic (Advil brand ibuprofen, Benadryl brand diphenhydramine, Tums brand antacid). Whatever your personal preference, both the brand name and the generic option work the same way and are equally effective.
But generics deal with small and structurally simple drugs to reproduce. They aren’t as complicated as the large, complex proteins that make up cancer drugs like chemotherapy.
These larger medications are called biologics because they are made from living cells (rather than chemicals). When a biologic is reproduced, it isn’t identical to the original drug (called the parent or reference drug), even though it has the same structure and the same mechanisms. Instead, it’s called biosimilar.