Why are biosimilar medicines important?

Page last updated: 23 March 2017

Graphic that illustrates how biosimilar medicines are beneficial to the healthcare system, because they provide more treatment options for patients, which results in better health care. Any money saved from using biosimilar medicines can be re-invested to make health care even better in the future.

Patients need access to safe, effective, high-quality medicines such as biological medicines, particularly as chronic diseases become more common. Biological medicines are expensive, and are often the only treatments available to patients suffering from the most severe diseases. For many of these diseases, biological medicines provide better long-term outcomes with fewer side effects than chemical medicines.

In Australia, most medicines are subsidised through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). The introduction of biosimilar medicines encourages competition in the market and lowers prices. This makes these medicines more affordable to the system and ensures that the PBS will be sustainable into the future. It also means that medicines that used to be expensive become more affordable, which can expand treatment options.

The money saved by using biosimilar medicines can also be used to make more medicines affordable for more people (e.g. by adding new medicines to the PBS, or by making medicines that are already on the PBS available to more people), or to improve other areas of health care.

Growth in the biosimilar medicine market will mean that many Australians with chronic illness will have better access to affordable medicines.

The addition of biosimilar medicines to the market also reduces the potential for medicine shortages by making more brands available.

The introduction of biosimilar medicines has already had a significant impact on health care costs and patient care:

  • The use of biosimilar medicines is expected to save AUS$2.5 billion to AUS$46.8 billion for eight European Union countries between 2007 and 2020.[1]
  • The introduction of the biosimilar medicine filgrastim increased patient access by 44 per cent in the European Union between 2006 and 2013.[2]

Future savings are likely to be substantial, especially as more biosimilar medicines become available across the world. In the coming decade, as the patents on reference biological medicines expire, many more biosimilar medicines will become available to patients worldwide.

As more biosimilar medicines become available, manufacturers may be able to improve packaging and administration methods for these medicines. For example, one biosimilar filgrastim currently being produced in Europe comes with a ‘patient support kit’ that allows patients to administer the medicine at home, instead of having to go to a clinic or hospital.[3]

[1] Haustein R, de Millas C, Hoeer A, Haeussler B (2011). Saving money in the European healthcare systems with biosimilars, IGES Institute, Berlin.

[2] IMS Institute (2016). Delivering on the potential of biosimilar medicines: the role of functioning competitive markets, IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, New Jersey.

[3] Generics and Biosimilars Initiative (2013). Biosimilar G-CSF prescribed more than originator, www.gabionline.net/Biosimilars/News/Biosimilar-G-CSF-prescribed-more-than-originator.

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