When the FDA approved Remicade (infliximab) for Crohn's disease in August 1998, it ushered in a new era in the treatment of this disease. It was the first of several biologic therapies -- genetically engineered medications produced from living cells -- that could be used to treat Crohn's and other diseases.
Since the introduction of Remicade, three other biologic therapies have been approved for Crohn's: Cimzia (certolizumab), Humira (adalimumab), and Tysabri (natalizumab).
Biologics work by targeting specific parts of the body's immune system to combat inflammation. They have proven very effective at relieving symptoms and helping people with Crohn's disease achieve long-term remission.
However, in part because the manufacturing process is more complex for biologics than for some other drugs, they have a steep price tag. One year of maintenance treatment with biologics can potentially add up to about $20,000.
Even people who have health insurance can spend a lot of money on biologics. Virtually all Medicare plans and some commercial health insurance plans put biologics in the "fourth tier" of their drug formularies. In some cases, rather than having a co-payment, consumers must pay a percentage -- typically 25% to 35% of the cost of drugs in this top tier.
Here are some resources that may help.
Programs That Help Pay for Biologics
Many pharmaceutical companies and private foundations offer patient assistant programs that provide drugs at low or no cost to patients who can't afford them.
To find a patient assistance program, you can contact one of these organizations:
The Chronic Disease Fund helps underinsured patients with chronic diseases (including Crohn's disease) cover the cost of their drug co-payments.
NeedyMeds provides information on more than 2,400 drug assistance programs. You can find a specific list of drugs used to treat Crohn's disease and the patient assistance program available for each one. NeedyMeds also provides a list of state-sponsored programs and discount drug cards.
The Partnership for Prescription Assistance provides information on more than 475 public and private programs that offer reduced-cost or free medications, including more than 180 pharmaceutical company programs.
The Patient Access Network Foundation helps underinsured patients pay for out-of-pocket expenses, including medication co-pays.
Rx Assist offers a database of patient assistance programs, as well as a list of drug discount cards.
For more information on how to pay for your biologics, you can also contact the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America.
One way people have been able to save money on medications is by switching to generics. After the manufacturer's patent expires, another company can produce their own version of the drug without having to invest in the research and development costs. Generic drugs contain the same active ingredients as the original drugs, but they cost less.