What Are Biosimilar Insulins?
Last updated: January 2022
There has been an uptake of biosimilar insulins over the past year. While some patients have requested the switch from the originator product to save money, others have had to switch due to their health insurance requiring it.
This article will outline biosimilars, how they differ from the originator molecules, and whether you can still achieve your health goals using biosimilar insulins.
What are biosimilars?
The simplest way to think of biosimilars is like generic drugs. For example, metformin is generic, while Glucophage is the brand name product. However, biosimilars are not exactly the same as the originator for several reasons:1
- The drug molecule is too complex to be deemed exactly the same.
- They are made from living cells and not simple medicinal ingredients.
Because of these reasons, biosimilar insulins are not typically interchangeable with the originator, and a new prescription needs to be authorized when switching.
What is the originator drug?
The originator is the first patented drug to enter the market (the original). When a patent on the originator ends, other manufacturers can then enter the market with their molecule version. Biosimilars are very similar to the originator. Biosimilar insulins must undergo rigorous tests to ensure the same quality and safety as the originator.1
Available insulin biosimilars
Insulin biosimilars have been around for some time in North America. These include:2
- Basaglar: biosimilar of Lantus
- Ademlog: biosimilar of Humalog
- Turapi: biosimilar of Novorapid
Why use biosimilar insulins?
Biosimilar drugs are less costly than the originator, sometimes up to 50 percent less than the price of the originator product.
If you have private or public insurance, the insurance plan may require switching to the biosimilar. This is because there are significant cost-savings, allowing for the sustainability of the health plan. This means more drugs are added to the list of prescriptions covered by the health plan (known as the formulary).3
If you pay for your insulin out-of-pocket and do not have insurance, you would decide, along with your doctor, whether to stay on the originator or take advantage of the cost-savings of the biosimilar.
Common concerns with biosimilars
Some people using biosimilar insulin may worry that it is of lesser quality because it is less costly. That is not true. Biosimilars go through rigorous testing and, to be marketed, have to be deemed as similar in effectiveness to the originator.4
From my experience as a pharmacist, most people notice no change in their health status when switching over to biosimilar insulin.
What happens if I don't tolerate biosimilar insulin well?
A minority of people cannot tolerate a biosimilar as well as they did with the originator. But, this is rare.
Depending on your insurance, you may be allowed to go back to the originator under special authorization if you experience issues with biosimilars. The special approval may require a note from your doctor explaining why you did not tolerate the biosimilar.
Note that your thoughts about the biosimilar can influence how you feel while on it. The nocebo effect is a well-documented event where negative thoughts about a drug may lead to real side effects or symptoms.4
Are you taking a biosimilar insulin? Share your experiences below!
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