Future is in doubt for cheaper versions of biologic drugs

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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