Congress Wants You to Know About These New, Cheaper Insulins
If you use insulin to manage your diabetes or are a caregiver for someone who does, you’ve likely noticed rising insulin prices in recent years.
Because of this, many people in the diabetes community are hopeful that an expanding market for biosimilar insulins may help bring down costs for people who rely on life-sustaining insulin to manage their diabetes.
Last year Congress passed a bill to help educate the public on biosimilars, a fast-growing category of drugs and therapies that can offer cost-saving alternatives to some expensive medications, including insulins.
Thanks to this legislation, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created new resources to educate health care providers, patients and caregivers on the safety, efficacy and benefits that biosimilar drugs, including insulins, offer.
The basics of biosimilars
Biosimilars, like generic drugs, are versions of brand-name drugs that are often cheaper.
Biosimilars are different than generics because they are from complex molecules like insulin. Unlike generics (which are typically small-molecule synthetic medications), they aren’t identical to their brand-name counterpart, but biosimilars are highly similar to the original drug and are shown to have the same effect in the body.
Biosimilars can be confusing. After all, they aren’t the same medication as your original prescription (unless your health care provider specifically prescribes it!).
This may contribute to doubt, confusion or mistrust from pharmacists, prescribers and patients as to whether biosimilar medications are safe and effective—or what to expect when making the switch.
If you use insulin, here’s what you should know about biosimilars.
Biosimilars have the same benefits and risks
According to the FDA, compared with their original biologic drugs, biosimilars:
- Are made with the same types of natural sources
- Are administered the same way
- Provide the same treatment benefits
- Have the same potential side effects
- Have the same strength and dosage
Swapping biosimilars at the pharmacy
In some cases, interchangeable biosimilars can even be automatically substituted for your prescription at the pharmacy if it will cost you less out of pocket—just like a generic would.
For biosimilars to get this additional approval as “interchangeable,” manufacturers not only have to show their product works the same as the original drug or therapy, but that it’s also safe to switch between biosimilars and original medications, just as you might with generics.
Check out this patient fact sheet to find more details about biosimilars.
Why you don’t see generic insulins
It may be hard to believe that insulin, discovered and patented over a century ago, hasn’t benefitted from the cost-lowering trend that usually comes from generic and unbranded alternatives.
Patents don’t last forever, after all.
A patent can be extended if the original formula is improved upon—and pharmaceutical companies have taken full advantage of this to “evergreen” their drug patents.
Some industry experts call this practice abuse of the patent system.
While no two healthcare systems are exactly the same, it’s been shown in other countries that when two or more biosimilars are available, it drives down insulin prices.
The FDA hopes the people who use these medications, including insulin, will be the ones to primarily benefit from innovation and competition around biosimilars.
The Biosimilar Education Act
When Congress passed the 2021 Biosimilar Education Act, the FDA was directed to create resources to make information on biosimilars for health care professionals and the public.
Thanks to this legislation, you and your prescriber have more resources than ever to understand how biosimilars work and how they may offer you cost-saving potential.
You can navigate the dedicated FDA website on biosimilars here.
If you are a provider who needs more information about biosimilar medications, or you want to speak to your healthcare team about using biosimilar insulin, check out these resources for prescribers.
If you prefer learning through audio or visual information, the FDA created a helpful video series explaining biologics and biosimilars.
By educating yourself on biosimilars and all the insulin options available, you can advocate for yourself to save on your diabetes medical costs!
Saving money with biosimilars
If you use Lantus insulin to manage your diabetes, your pharmacist may substitute Semglee if it’s cheaper. In fact, you may already be using it!
Most states allow pharmacists to do this automatically, though not always, so familiarize yourself with the rules in your state around biosimilars.
It doesn’t hurt to regularly talk to your doctor or pharmacist about newly approved insulins that may benefit you by lowering the cost of your diabetes management.
If you worry about affording the price of your insulin, there are resources that may help. Check out our cost-saving tool at Getinsulin.org.
The future of biosimilar insulins
Two biosimilar insulins have been approved by the FDA, Semglee and Rezvoglar, and at least nine biosimilar insulins are under development today.
This represents a promising new chapter in the history of insulin pricing and development that stands to benefit the people who need it to survive.
The FDA is also taking steps to support competition among drug makers and making it harder to game or unfairly delay the FDA approval process for new products.
Hopefully, expanding insulin choices and greater price competition means people with diabetes can design their diabetes management around their unique insulin needs and preferences and not be limited by insulin access and affordability.
Editor’s note: Educational content related to biosimilars is made possible with support from Mylan/Viatris, an active partner of Beyond Type 2 at the time of publication. Editorial control rests solely on Beyond Type 2.