Bill on ‘biosimilar’ drugs easily clears panel

$1,300 a month.

That’s how much Kerry Tucker spends for the “biologic” medication to treat her arthritis.

Kerry Tucker
Kerry Tucker

“And I have health insurance,’’ she told lawmakers Thursday.

Biologic drugs are specially engineered drugs that have made a major difference in people’s ability to handle their symptoms from arthritis and other diseases. But they also carry a high price tag.

Tucker, an Atlanta resident, came to the state Capitol to testify for a bill that would make it easier for patients like her to get a cheaper medication that’s similar to a biologic drug they are currently taking.

The goal of Senate Bill 51 is to create a state structure for the prescribing of “biosimilar’’ drugs – and could potentially save Georgians money. 

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Dean Burke (R-Bainbridge), was approved unanimously Thursday by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The state House is working on a “biosimilar” bill as well.

Burke, who’s also a physician, said a first group of biosimilar drugs is expected to be approved by the FDA this year.

Sen. Dean Burke
Sen. Dean Burke

The Georgia bill would allow a pharmacist to give a patient a drug considered “interchangeable’’ with the patient’s currently prescribed biologic drug. The legislation would require the pharmacist to notify the patient’s physician about the drug switch.

The effort could save Georgians such as Tucker “a significant amount of money,’’ Burke told the panel.

Tucker said her current medication has been “a game-changer’’ in treating her psoriatic arthritis.

“The communication between the pharmacist and physician is critical,’’ she said of Senate Bill 51.

Organizations representing patients with arthritis and cancer also testified in support of the legislation, as did drug industry groups.

Dorothy Leone-Glasser, a nurse who’s executive director of Advocates for Responsible Care, told the lawmakers that current biologic drugs are giving patients hope for a better quality of life.

“We want physicians to have a full arsenal [of treatments] to treat patients,’’ she said.

Burke told GHN that he has previously had patients with arthritis or cancer who took a biologic drug.

He said several other states had enacted legislation like the bill that Georgia is considering.