Healthcare amendment would delay access to "generic" versions of life-saving biologics

Healthcare reform isn’t just about the public option and paying for doctor’s visits — it’s also about equal, affordable access to life-saving medications for all Americans. That’s why many Big Pharma watchdogs are so disappointed with a recent amendment slipped into healthcare legislation that proposes extending patent protection on biologic drugs, delaying for years the public’s access to affordable follow-on versions.

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What are biologics? They’re the next big wave in medicine — drugs made not from simple chemical formulations, but from biological components. They’re very expensive, and poised for enormous success:

By 2014, the biggest-selling meds will be biologics, according to an analysis from Evaluate Pharma. Taking the place of Pfizer’s gargantuan drug Lipitor will be Roche’s Avastin, a cancer med expected to account for $9.23 billion in 2014 sales. (Even when you factor in the recent trial disappointments.) The next five top sellers, in order, are expected to be Humira (Abbott Labs), Rituxan (Roche), Enbrel (Wyeth/Amgen), Lantus (Sanofi-Aventis), and Herceptin (also Roche).

Evaluate also predicts that half of the top 100 drugs in 2014 will be biotech meds a huge change from last year’s level of 28 percent and 11 percent in 2000.

Because biologics are so complex, the system we all know, where patented brand names enjoy a period of exclusivity, then eventually make way to cheaper generics doesn’t translate perfectly. Biologic generics are called biosimilars, and they are not seen as generic equivalents. They must be submitted for approvals as new drugs and do their own clinical trials, etc.Â

The Eshoo-Barton amendment, named for sponsoring Representatives Anna Eshoo (D – Calif.) and Joe Barton (R – Texas), would give brand-name biologic drugmakers 12 years of market exclusivity. By comparison, President Obama favors seven years, and Rep. Henry Waxman (D – Calif.) feels that the public should have access to “generic” biologics after just five years. By contrast, says Medical News Today, “The Biotechnology Industry Organization maintains that there should be a minimum 14 years of exclusivity to account for a development process that on average takes 10 years and $1.2 billion for a product to reach market.”

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5, 7, 12, or 14 years? As you can see, there is a real difference of opinion on this subject. One person who has written extensively on this is author James Love on the Huffington Post. Here he explains why this amendment is harmful:

The Eshoo/Barton amendment, which has the support of many newly pro-PhRMA democrats, will extend the period of monopolies for biologic medicines, when compared to the original Waxman text. The only question is how long. Part of the harm will be the longer period prohibiting generic suppliers from relying upon evidence that medicines are safe and provide therapeutic benefits. Much of the other harm will come from a number of technical changes in the bill that make it much easier for incumbent firms to block entry through technical issues, extended litigation, and ever-greening of protection from small medically unimportant changes in protected medicines.

This is essentially a case of innovation versus access. Drug companies want protection from the risks and costs borne in the creation and testing of new drugs; patient advocates say that Big Pharma (or Big Biotech, if you like) already make large profits and that the public deserves access to affordable biosimilars in a more timely fashion. Entities that support longer periods of exclusivity, such as universities, biotech companies and venture capitalists are fighting to protect inventors’ rights and ensure more thorough clinical trials. On the other side, consumer groups, labor unions, insurers and generic drug manufacturers ‘see shorter exclusivity as the way to deliver safe, affordable and quality drugs to patients and open the marketplace to increased competition, explains Medical News Today.

The latest high-emotion development is blogger Jane Hamsher’s Are You Or Someone You Know Paying $50,000 A Year For Drugs? It paints an ugly picture of what happens to people who cannot affording life-saving biologics. A few days later, Rep. Eshoo responded to this and other online attention with a blog post on The Hill’s Congress Blog titled Setting the record straight on our health care legislation. If you check in with these two articles, you’ll have the latest from both side of the “biologic generics” debate.

Our mission, as always, at eDrugSearch.com is to improve the American public’s access to safe, quality medications at an affordable cost.

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