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Pharmacists will have a central role in educating about biosimilar drugs.
As biosimilars become more prevalent, pharmacists will play a key role in educating physicians, nurses, and patients about the use of these new options. Drug Topics recently talked with Julie Rubin, PharmD, Director of Clinical Services at CompleteRx, a health-systems pharmacy management, consulting, and operations services company, about the emerging role pharmacists will play in the exciting new field.
DT: There has been a lot of buzz in recent years about the use of biosimilars and the potential they have to lower health-care costs. What is the status of biosimilars now? Have they started to play a role in the market?
Rubin: Actually, yes. It’s slow to come, but we are definitely seeing some change in the market. There are about five to six that have been approved in the United States. In the hospitals [CompleteRx works with], there are two that we use quite frequently and we’re actually now waiting for some others to get released.
Biosimilars to Enbrel and Humira have been approved, but we don’t think we’ll actually see them on the market ... until 2018.
DT: As more biosimilars enter the market, what role do you believe pharmacists can play in educating health-care providers about the use of biosimilars?
Rubin: Our physicians are kind of leery. They get really used to the medications that they’ve prescribed and if their patients are stable, they are concerned about switching them to another agent. So as these new biosimilars become available, it’s important that the pharmacist takes some time to [understand]who is it applicable to, and what diseases, and what patients, so that they can communicate good information to the physicians and make them more comfortable to switch products.
DT: What makes pharmacists uniquely positioned for this task?
Rubin: Pharmacists are unique because they are the person at the table who is looking at the literature, who has that liaison role. They talk to so many different groups.
They do quite a bit of literature reviews themselves, as I do. There’s always a pharmacist representative on pharmacy and therapeutic committees in the hospital to leverage new agents as they become available, [to decide] when they make good clinical sense, and when they are cost effective for the patient as well as the hospital. So, it makes us unique.
[Pharmacists] are also very good communicators who can speak to the patient and tell them about the change.
DT: What do you see as the biggest challenge for the health-care industry as the new forms of drugs are introduced?
Rubin: think the physicians are scared, and nervous, about switching patients who are currently stable on these medications. For most of these medications sometimes, it also will take time to get them to an adequate dose for therapeutic effect for adequate response level.
Up next: What do physicians in your area need to know?
DT: What should pharmacists be doing now to let health-care providers know they are an available resource in this area?
Rubin: They need to become educated. That’s one thing I think is a big weakness. I don’t think there’s enough continuing education about biosimilars, the differences, how they are made, the studies, the information.
I think we need to know more about the agents and know what resources are available for us [and] also look at the legislative side, look at the information side, look at the side effects, and so forth.
I think we need to get on the bandwagon and look at biosimilars, because it is the new wave in therapy and treatment for the next few years. We need to understand it better ourselves.
DT: What else might be important for our readers to consider?
Rubin: I think that pharmacist’s need to be aware of the laws and also how they are naming the agents because those are going to be two different things that we will have to consider adding to in our pharmacy information system and the way that we document. [Biosimilar names] can be easily confused, just like generics are in the everyday world. So I think the naming is going to be very, very important.
I think besides knowing what agents that are out there we are going to have to be aware of some of the laws and the legal side of biosimilars.