Skip to content

Information and Resources

Cheap, Generic 'Biologics' on the Way?

Congress Considers Allowing Companies to Make Low-Cost Copies of Drugs Like Insulin
Font Size
A
A
A
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 8, 2007 -- High-cost drugs like insulin and new-generation rheumatoid arthritis medications could soon become a lot cheaper. That is, if Congress can succeed in finding a way to approve them as generics.

The issue could affect a wide range of high-priced drugs and vaccines that are called "biologics" because they're produced by living cells under controlled conditions.

Insulin, a widely-prescribed biologic used by millions of people with diabetes, can cost patients $1,500 per year. Some newer biologics used to treat cancer can cost close to $50,000 per year. Rituxan, a biologic that targets immune cells and treats rheumatoid arthritis and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, can cost more than $10,000 per treatment course.

But the FDA has no standard for proving lower-cost generic versions of biologics equivalent to the parent drugs. That has kept them off the U.S. market.

Consumer groups and businesses are now calling for a standard that would let generic companies gain government approval of copies once a brand-name biologic's patent expires. Such a standard, they say, could save billions in health costs.

"This is our single fastest growing category of health costs, and the trend is simply not sustainable," Sid Banwart, a Caterpillar Inc. vice president, told a Senate hearing Thursday.

He said the company has spent $150 million on prescription benefits last year and that spending on biologics went up 45% since 2001.

WebMD Video: Now Playing

Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing