White hands holding a small pillbox of biosimilar medications.

Inflammation of the colon can be treated with medications called biologics, which are used to treat IBD. Those with moderate and severe IBD have been helped by these medications. These medications can be very expensive.

Enter medications that are not branded. These medications are close to copies of biologic medications that have a lower price tag. It is easy to wonder if they are less effective. There are connections between IBD treatment and biosimilars.

Similar to biologic drugs, biosimilars are drugs manufactured to be almost exactly the same. They are the same in how they work, how they are dosed, and active ingredients.

The FDA must approve and review biosimilar drugs.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers make biosimilar drugs to treat a number of health conditions, including psoriatic arthritis and cancers.

Why do we need biosimilar medications?

Drug manufacturers may file for a patent when they research a new drug. A patent prevents other drug manufacturers from making the same drug. It is not always possible to get a patent that lasts forever (usually for medications, it is about 20 years).

Other companies can make copies of the originals when patents are not renewed. These are less expensive copies of drugs. The reference product in the pharmaceutical world is the original biologic drug, and the follow-up medications are called the biosimilars.

“If this sounds like a generic medication to you, you would be the only one who would wonder. The nature of the drugs means that they aren’t the same as generics.”

There are a lot of complex drugs. They are incredibly intricate and are made inside living cells. The process is so complex that it is almost impossible for a biosimilar to be a copy of the drug.

Doctors prescribe drugs to treat IBD. These include:

You can usually identify their counterpart biosimilar drugs by their names. They’ll begin with the same name, plus a dash and several letters after them. The FDA has approved these biosimilars for IBD treatment in the United States, including these that are based on Remicade:

  • infliximab-dyyb (Inflectra)
  • Infliximab-axxq is from Avsola.
  • Infliximab-abda is a drug.

These biosimilars treat IBD in the same manner as their reference drug: by targeting chemical messengers that signal inflammation in the bowel. They’re administered via intravenous (IV) line or injection.

What is the difference between biosimilar and generic drugs?

If you compared the two drugs, they would likely have slight differences. If you take a generic drug, it will work the same as a original drug, but if you take a biosimilar, it will work differently.

Coverage for biosimilars and biologic medications can vary by insurance policy. It’s not uncommon to be receiving a biologic medication and receive a notification from your insurance company that they’re switching you to a biosimilar.

Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) most commonly covers biologics and biosimilars. Part D plans spend an estimated $12 billion annually on biologic medications for many diagnoses, including IBD.

Humira, a biologic used to treat IBD and other inflammatory medical conditions, is the “bestselling” prescription drug worldwide. Doctors prescribe it five times the rate of its available biosimilars, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). But biosimilars aren’t always on Part D medication listings.

Adding these biosimilars can potentially cut costs for Medicare and private insurance enrollees. Over time, the HHS projects that more insurance companies will add these medications to their formularies.

Treatments for IBD depend upon your condition itself, how severe your disease is, and your overall health. Biologics aren’t usually a first-line treatment for IBD. Doctors will usually start with medications to lower inflammation and induce IBD remission. This combination usually involves:

But if this medication combination doesn’t treat your condition or you have extensive, active disease, your doctor may prescribe medications such as biologics or biosimilars.

“Some people with IBD don’t benefit from these medications. If your medication doesn’t work well, a doctor may switch you to another drug type, increase your dose, or prescribe drugs that can keep your body from rejecting the medication.”

More patents will expire on biologics, which will lead to more biosimilars hitting the market. If you have IBD, you may see more of the medications that the FDA approves. The approval of the drug must prove its safety and also that it produces the same results as the original.

If a doctor prescribes a biosimilar, it will work just as well as your biologic medication.