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Patients are a Virtue -- but not at the FTC

2014-01-29 |

Although FDA is tasked with creating naming policy for biosimilars before they enter the U.S. market, FTC is trying to force its misguided view on the issue in the hopes of building advocates for non-unique names. During a workshop scheduled for February 4 will delve into the biosimilars naming issue, but somehow they forgot to include a number of VIPs (Very Important Perspectives). Amazingly, patient advocates are nowhere to be found on the agenda; also absent are physicians who prescribe biologics and health system pharmacists.

Because of FTC’s slight – presumably so they could through the workshop arrive at near consensus on the need for biosimilars to share the same name as the innovators to which they related, and in doing so muddy the central facts that distinguishable naming is the right approach for efficient adverse event reporting, patient safety and even promoting uptake of and competition among biosimilars.

Today’s VIP on the issue is that of the first person – the actual long-time and life-long biologics user.  Donna Cryer is really a patient-plus though – in addition to using a mix of biologics and synthetic medicines for rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, to preserve a transplanted liver she received nearly 20 years ago, and to deal with kidney issues that impair her body’s ability to make red blood cells, Donna is a Harvard-trained health policy lawyer, a patient representative on an FDA advisory committee and the first patient to serve as Chairman of the American Liver Foundation. Here’s Donna’s perspective on why the right naming policy for biosimilars and all biologics matters for her and the millions of other biologics users like her.

Q: What role do biologics play in treating patients?

A: Biologics play an incredibly important role in treating patients, like me, who have multiple autoimmune conditions. My life really depends on biologic medications. And for so many thousands of other patients, our health, our productivity, our ability to work and be with our families all are because we have access to biologic medications.

Q: What value could biosimilars offer to patients like yourself?

A: Biosimilars often offer lower cost options, so that can provide more access to medications for more patients.

Q: Why is it important for patients and doctors to know which biologic is being and has been put into a patient's body?

A: It is essential that doctors and patients know exactly which medication, particularly with biologics, they are prescribing and using. Being able to manage a disease based on the reactions of your immune system is really tricky. You want to make sure that you are not suppressing the immune system so much that you are open to every infection, every cold, as well as more serious conditions like tuberculosis.  Knowing exactly which biologic medication you're taking is absolutely vital because if there is a side effect, an adverse event, or just a change in your condition and your body's response, you want to be able to track it back to exactly the drug that you were prescribed, exactly the drug that you took.

Q: Since biologics are more complex than normal, chemical prescription medicines, how does that alter the conversation and relationship you have with your doctor?

A: The doctor/patient relationship is based on trust. In fact, the patient relationship within the entire healthcare system is based on trust, and a high degree of confidence, that what we're being prescribed, what we rely on for our very lives, is safe and effective. We want to be able to know, and have confidence that our biosimilars and biologic medications are distinguishable, so that we can know what we're taking, how we're taking it, how it differs.

Q: From your view as a patient, what would be the best approach the FDA could take when creating a naming policy for biosimilars?

A: Well, the issue of biosimilars naming is really important, because unless FDA ensures that unique distinguishable names for biosimilars are given, patients and doctors really will be left without any recourse to track back and understand what medication might have caused their adverse event or their side effect.  We want to be able to track back if there is an issue, a side effect, a serious adverse event, or just a change in our condition. We want to be able to know. We deserve the right to know what we have taken so that we can have recourse, if need be, about what has happened and what is happening to our bodies. As a patient, I'm not really sure why there is even an argument about having a distinguishable name for a biosimilar: it's such a simple solution to have a distinguishable name.

Thank you, Donna.