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State Lawmakers Weigh Issue Of 'Biosimilars' -- New, Life-Saving Drugs

DENVER (CBS4) - Much cheaper, life-saving drugs could become available this year. They are called biosimilars and are copycat versions of drugs for diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, breast cancer and psoriasis.

A bill before Colorado lawmakers would let pharmacists substitute the biosimilars for brand name drugs. The medications are different from the generics that have been on the market.

The new drugs mimic a class of drugs called biologics.

The bill that has already passed the Senate allows Colorado pharmacists to dispense a biosimilar copycat if the doctor doesn't object. But patients and pharmacists are at odds over notification.

Ever since she was 25 Mariah Leach has suffered with painful rheumatoid arthritis.

"It can be difficult to get out of bed, it can be really hard to move in the morning," she said.

Leach has found relief with biologic medications, which are complex treatments made from living cells. Most recently she was taking Enbrel, but has switched to Orencia.

"They're very expensive," she said. "They can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars a month."

The more affordable biosimilars are expected to hit the market this year. State lawmakers are considering a bill allowing pharmacists to substitute a Federal Drug Administration approved biosimilar for the biologic unless the doctor requires the brand name drug.

"They're required to notify patients and their doctors that this substitution has been made," Leach said.

Leach believes that's critical, but Val Kalnins with the Colorado Pharmacists Society has a problem with it.

"Our biggest concern is that we would need to notify the physician whether we make a substitution or not," he said.

Kalnins says pharmacists believe that's unnecessary, time consuming, and "is going to take away from the actual care of our patients."

Colorado lawmakers are hammering out the issues now knowing that the cost saving copycat biosimilars are on the way. The bill has already passed the state Senate. It has yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing in the House.

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