Under the Dome

NC House OKs cheaper ‘biosimilar’ drugs

The N.C. House voted 101-6 on Thursday to approve the use of “biosimilars,” a form of cheaper substitutes for costly medications.

House Bill 195 would require pharmacists to inform patients and doctors when they receive a biosimilar. The drugs are essentially generic alternatives to biologics, a classification of medicine derived from biological sources and used to treat serious illnesses such as cancer and autoimmune diseases.

Biologics are some of the most expensive pharmaceuticals on the market, costing up to $100,000 a year for patients and their insurers. The bill would mean major savings for the estimated 335,000 people in North Carolina who need biologics.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary, said the legislation has the backing of affected industries.

“All the major stakeholders – pharmaceutical companies, pharmacists, health plans – all of those parties worked extremely hard to be able to craft a consensus bill to help move this state forward from an economic standpoint and from a patient safety standpoint,” Dollar said Thursday.

One company that produces biosimilars, Hospira Inc., has a manufacturing plant in Rocky Mount. A vice president for the company made the case for biosimilars in a recent News & Observer opinion piece.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where a companion bill was sponsored by the powerful rules chairman, Sen. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville.