Advocates for a new class of drugs called “biosimilars” say they could save consumers billions of dollars by offering cheaper substitutes for some of the most expensive products on the pharmacy shelf.
State lawmakers are considering a pair of bills that would allow New Mexico pharmacists to substitute biosimilar drugs for brand-name products, much as they now can with generic drugs.
The Senate voted 39-0 on Thursday to approve Senate Bill 180. A House version, House Bill 260, remains in the House Business and Industry Committee.
Advocates say biosimilars mimic the therapeutic effects of biologic drugs, which are manufactured from living systems, such as the cells of plants or animals.
Biologics include blockbusters such as Humira and Embrel, which are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved four biosimilars, including three rheumatoid arthritis drugs and one cancer drug. Two mimic the effects of Humira and Embrel.
Biologics are key drivers of rising drug costs for New Mexico’s Medicaid program and other state-funded insurance plans, according to a state Legislative Finance Committee report issued in September.
From 2014 to 2016, state-funded insurance plan members using Humira and Embril increased by 5 percent, but plan costs for those drugs increased by 52 percent, the report found.
The cost of those and other anti-inflammatory drugs cost state-funded insurance plans $13.3 million in 2015, up 20 percent from 2014, the report said.
Biological drugs have helped drive up prescription drug costs by 54 percent in two years, to $680 million in 2016, for the 10 state agencies that buy them, it said.
Lawmakers will consider a change to state law that would allow pharmacists to substitute biosimilar drugs for biological drugs, if the substitution results in a lower cost for the consumer, according to an LFC analysis.
It would also require pharmacies to notify prescribers of the substitution. Prescribers can prohibit a substitution by writing “no substitution” on the prescription.
Dale Tinker, executive director of the New Mexico Pharmacists Association, said he is unaware of any opposition to the measures, which his group supports.
Biosimilar drugs “are fairly well-used around the world, but not much is the U.S. yet,” Tinker said. “But they will be.”