Telling the truth about biosimilar nomenclature

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  • 03/26/2015

From the pages of The Hill

Biosimilar drugs need clarification

In a recent op-ed piece on The Hill’s Congress Blog (“More must be done to improve access to biosimilar drugs,” March 19), Ike Bannon erroneously argues that the use of unique international non-proprietary names (INN) for biosimilar medicines would slow the entry of this new class of drugs into the U.S. market. On the contrary, names that clearly differentiate biosimilars from one another and the original biologic medicine will enhance transparency and build physician confidence in this class of medicine, without which robust utilization is not possible.

Biologic drugs are extremely complex medicines. As such, unlike traditional chemical drugs, it is all but impossible for biosimilar drugs to be identical to the approved biologic they are meant to resemble. The naming of these drugs is an important patient safety issue because the INN is used in the surveillance of drugs on the market to quickly identify which drug may be responsible for an adverse event. If biosimilars use the same INN as their reference biologics, it would be more difficult for regulators to recognize exactly which product is causing a problem.

As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalizes its naming policy, the agency must learn from real-world global biosimilar experiences to understand how different a biosimilar can be from the original biologic. These differences will make it resoundingly clear that FDA must finalize its policy in favor of unique names.

Case in point: A poster presentation at the European Crohn’s and Colitis Organization titled “Biosimilar but not the same” offered timely and real-world data on the differences between originator biologics and their biosimilars. The study examined the clinical impact of both the innovator product (Remicade) and its European Medicines Agency-approved biosimilar (Inflectra). The findings show the rates of surgery in Remicade and Inflectra groups were significantly different. Specifically, 80 percent of the Inflectra group required hospital readmission versus 5 percent of the Remicade group. The conclusion of the study is not ambiguous: “Our results suggest that biosimilars may not be as efficacious as the reference medicine.”

Biosimilar approvals are based on similarity — but in the real world, success will be measured by patient outcomes. Biosimilars are here to stay and it is not surprising that physicians will have more confidence in them if they know exactly what drug they are prescribing. Distinguishable names provide that transparency and a necessary safeguard to maximize safety and credibility. It’s really that simple.

From Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, New York, N.Y.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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