Lawmakers have an exceptional opportunity this year to improve health care for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians, reduce treatment costs and promote our state’s growing life sciences industry, all in one bill.
Senate Bill 197 and the identical House Bill 195 would let pharmacists substitute interchangeable “biosimilar” medicines for costlier biologic drugs with the full knowledge of the patient and his or her doctor.
In North Carolina, almost 335,000 people suffer from serious health conditions typically treated with complex drugs known as biologics, medicines derived from biological sources. Biologics treat illnesses such as cancer, chronic kidney disease and autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
But biologics are expensive, some costing up to $100,000 a year. As North Carolinians age, their demand for biologics will increase, making it harder for patients and taxpayers to afford them. That’s where biosimilars come in – and our state’s key role in producing them.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first U.S. biosimilar this month. Biosimilars are less expensive to manufacture, require less development time than originator biologics and are proven to be just as safe and effective. They’re new to the United States, available as biologic patents expire, but patients in Europe, Australia and elsewhere have used them safely and effectively for years. Their introduction here is a major advance in American health care.
Our company, Hospira, which has a large manufacturing plant in Rocky Mount, awaits FDA approval of other biosimilars to help patients suffering from chronic diseases. We’re the only U.S.-based company with a North Carolina presence producing and distributing biosimilars worldwide. A short drive east of the Research Triangle, we operate one of the largest generic injectable-pharmaceutical facilities in the world, producing more than 2 million doses per day. We’re proud to call North Carolina home.
Allowing the introduction of biosimilars in America is essential, but it’s only the first step to encourage the adoption of these cost-saving, life-improving medicines. These new drugs offer important new treatment options, but that great promise will be realized only if state lawmakers adopt policies that let patients in North Carolina receive the full benefit of these medicines, as the FDA has encouraged.
In SB 197 and HB 195, the N.C. General Assembly is considering legislation that could enable the state to save millions of taxpayer dollars a year in government health care costs.
This thoughtful, sensible approach has the support of health care experts, patient groups, the pharmaceutical industry and other stakeholders. We applaud North Carolina lawmakers for laying the foundation for the production and use of biosimilars, which in turn will help maximize their adoption, increasing accessibility and reducing costs in North Carolina and across the United States.
Marty Nealey is vice president of operations and plant manager at Hospira’s Rocky Mount Facility.