A letter to the editor on the Virginia Biosimilars bill by ASBM Advisory Board member, Dr. Harry Gewanter, ran in the Lynchburg News & Advance.

Healing or dollars?

As one of the few pediatric rheumatologists in Virginia, I am extremely disappointed by the misinformation presented in The News & Advance’s Feb. 2 article, “Newman’s Senate bill addresses drug prices.” There is no mention of prices or pricing within either Sen. Steve Newman’s bill or the similar House bill, and the implication that there will be cost savings is pure speculation.

Biologic medications have proven to be miracle agents for thousands of Virginians with a wide variety of chronic illnesses, including arthritis, multiple sclerosis and many cancers. Any agent that can produce such significant benefits carry with it significant potential risks.

Virginia has a responsibility to ensure that any biologic substitution not only follows the FDA rules on interchangeability, but also that the process is transparent. We already have had experiences with chemical generic medications producing differing positive and negative effects in patients and those medications are incredibly easier to produce than any biologic agent.

As their name implies, “biosimilar” medications are not the same as the original “biologic” agent. It is critically important that patients and prescribing physicians know which agent is being dispensed by the pharmacist so that appropriate medical decisions can be made if there are adverse effects or a change in efficacy.

Sen. Newman’s bill eliminates this critical communication between pharmacists, patients and their physicians in 2015. If I do not know that my patient with juvenile arthritis is not doing well because a substitution of a medication has occurred, I may change treatments or submit this child to many other evaluations that are not necessary.

Chronic illness care requires close and ongoing communication between all members of a patient’s health care team. As a physician and a parent, I believe this communication and the resultant patient safety is far more important than any theoretical monetary savings Sen. Newman touts.