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There are several strategies life sciences companies can use to benefit from biosimilars.
As the biosimilars market continues to grow—both in the number of products and therapeutic areas—some analysts expect that these products could help deliver more than $133 billion in aggregate savings by 2025.
Yet, despite the expected boom of approvals and launches for these products, access to these treatments can often remain a challenge. While there are several well-defined barriers to biosimilar access and utilization, recent research continues to highlight the role education plays in creating clinical confidence among key stakeholders—especially providers, pharmacists, and patients—that ultimately support broader utilization in the market.
While the US government has supported education over the past few years through bills such as the Advancing Education on Biosimilars Act of 2021, the execution of effective education campaigns falls under the responsibility of multiple healthcare stakeholders, including life sciences companies, providers, patients, industry groups, and others. We are beginning to see some of these with dedicated education programs such as the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs (ACMA) Board Certified Biologics and Biosimilars Specialist (BCBBS) program launching later this year. However, with 40-plus biosimilar launches expected between 2022–2025 across a variety of therapeutic areas, dedicated, omnichannel, and targeted education from more trusted sources will be vital to the success of these products.
Here are three educational strategies life sciences companies can deploy in order to reach the right stakeholders, tackle the right topics, and strengthen familiarity and confidence in biosimilars.
With multiple biosimilars launching in new therapeutic areas, educating providers in each specialty will need to become an integral part of every pharma company’s healthcare provider engagement and marketing strategies. Research continually demonstrates that provider behavior is the key to biosimilar uptake and adoption both in the US and international markets such as the EU.
The specialty of ophthalmology can serve as an example. In July 2022, the first FDA-approved ophthalmology biosimilar was launched in the US market, representing a significant milestone that brings the promise of biosimilars to patients burdened by retinal diseases and conditions.
According to our research, 82% of retina providers believe educational information about the safety, efficacy, and real-word performance of biosimilars would be the most impactful action to help them achieve a greater understanding of biosimilar products. Another 38% of retina providers shared that their primary concern with prescribing biosimilars is being uncomfortable from a clinical standpoint due to the lack of real-world data on these products thus far, along with another 52% who suggested that clinical trial data and real-world evidence would influence their usage of biosimilars in the future.
In this research, we again see the link between lack of education and greater discomfort from a clinical perspective. We believe this is a very solvable barrier for biosimilars and that targeted physician marketing to enhance awareness of the real-word data will be a key tactic as more biosimilars come to market.
While analysts note biosimilar companies may be challenged with budgets (when compared to reference manufacturers), we know biosimilar manufacturers recognize the growing importance of being both biosimilar and “market similar” to the reference manufacturers they compete with. Also worth noting, due to the pandemic, provider marketing is becoming more of an omnichannel strategy, enabling manufacturers to better track data and results of outreach, while also reaching providers by their preferred method of communication. Research suggests that healthcare providers vary widely in their channel preferences—only 31% are willing to accept regular visits from pharma sales reps, 18% do not want to receive emails from pharma companies, and less than one-third (28%) are interested in digital recommendations.
This drastic divide in preferences among healthcare professionals reveals that a targeted omnichannel marketing approach will be essential to addressing the education gap on biosimilar products.
Medication therapy management programs (MTM)
As more biosimilars enter the market that are primarily managed under the pharmacy benefit, there will be an increased need for retail and specialty pharmacists to better understand these biologic products and also be able to provide effective education to patients. In July 2021, FDA approved the first interchangeable biosimilar: Viatris’ Semglee (insulin glargine-yfgn), referencing the long-acting insulin Lantus. As an interchangeable product, for the first time, pharmacists will be positioned to drive biosimilar substitutions, per state laws. This further empowers retail pharmacists to champion education efforts for patients and caretakers.
However, despite the regulatory enablement to facilitate substitutions, our research shows that less than 20% of retail pharmacists surveyed feel very familiar with the interchangeability designation. Additionally, 71% of pharmacists believe new biosimilar 101 education materials (e.g., a one-page reference) would be a helpful resource to support their conversations with patients.
The fact of the matter is, while pharmacists are being empowered to conduct biosimilar interchanges, they are also looking for support in this area. This is a great opportunity to support pharmacists through delivery of educational programs already embedded into their pharmacy workflow, like MTM programs, again leveraging omnichannel partners as noted earlier. As technology advances, these programs can augment pharmacists’ ability to provide real-time education to patients on a variety of topics, including biosimilars, in a consumable manner, to help ensure optimal patient outcomes. More so, while not applicable to all, the life sciences industry must remember that as pharmacists increase delivery of clinical interventions, financial terms must be aligned to provide compensation for these efforts and expertise as the industry expands.
Patient access and support programs
With pharma companies spending more than $5 billion annually to ensure patients gain access and adhere to costly treatments, it may seem counterintuitive that lower-cost biologics should get the same support. However, we would argue that there is a critical need for patient experiences to match, at minimum, the experiences they expect with originator products.
Patient support programs often serve three main areas:
Reference products and biosimilars are both biologic products that are complex and can be confusing to patients who haven’t been treated with them before. Therefore, it is essential that both reference biologics and biosimilars meet patient needs at the same level. This goes back to the idea of being as “market similar” as possible.
As a new class of products, biosimilars may get more questions from patients and providers about their efficacy and safety, creating heightened significance to hub services and product support offerings. For example, patient hubs, which often focus on personalizing messaging for patients, can help better communicate the importance and quality of these products to patients, tailoring communication strategies to individual learner types, as well as help navigate the complex managed-care coverage landscape.
As market research continues to reveal, there is an essential link between biosimilar education, clinical comfort, and adoption in this space. Targeting and tailoring provider education, leveraging existing platforms to activate and expand education efforts through retail pharmacies, and ensuring patient experiences are optimal through hub services, are just three examples that can support biosimilar adoption efforts in the US. In order to realize the projected savings estimates from biosimilars in the coming years, first and foremost, there must be clinical confidence in these agents. Educational efforts that are proactive, multistakeholder, and multichannel are paramount to establishing a healthy, competitive market for biologics and enabling expanded benefits for patients through broader access to and affordability of life-saving medications.
For more information about the state of biosimilars in the US, please check out the 2022 Cardinal Health Biosimilars Report: The U.S. Journey and Path Ahead.
Sonia T. Oskouei is vice president of biosimilars and Jeff Baldetti is director of biosimilars at Cardinal Health.