In this April 8, 2019, photo Chuck Pope, left, and wife Nina talk about his ongoing battle with rheumatoid arthritis and trying to afford medications to alleviate the condition while at their home in Derry, Pa. Pope had been battling the disease with an injected drug that his insurance covered while he was still working. It relieves pain and stops irreversible joint damage but retails for over $5,000 a month. Now his Medicare plan doesn't cover that drug, and Pope says his condition is deteriorating without it. Meanwhile, sales of approved, cheaper versions have been blocked. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Future is in doubt for cheaper versions of biologic drugs

June 27, 2019 - 10:39 am

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Injected drugs known as biosimilars were expected to save the U.S. health care system tens of billions of dollars. But sales have been so limited that their future is in doubt.

Biologic medicines treat cancer, rare diseases and autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and colitis. Biosimilars are near-copies of them. Like generic pills, they're supposed to be cheaper alternatives to name-brand drugs.

But makers of the original biologic drugs have mostly blocked access to the new rivals through stacks of successive patents, lawsuits and big rebates to insurers.

Already, one company has scrapped nearly all its biosimilar development projects.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who led the Food and Drug Administration until April, says he worries some biosimilar-makers are close to just walking away.

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