Are biosimilars the key to access, in practice?

Stephen Scowcroft, our Business Development Manager, reports back from the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress 2018 #ESMO18.

Stephen ESMO biosimilar

Last month Lymphoma Action was invited to present at a seminar at the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress 2018 in Munich on the topic of biosimilars. We were giving the patient perspective on the introduction of biosimilars for lymphoma in the UK, a direct result of our continued involvement in informing and supporting people affected by lymphoma about treatment developments. This was an innovative session bringing together expert to discuss evolving areas of interest to the oncology community. The session was organised by ESMO and supported by industry in a unique collaboration.

Since the start of 2017 alternative cheaper biosimilar treatments have been available for rituximab. This will have a positive effect on the long-term sustainability of treatment for lymphoma and supports the NHS drive to continue to support innovative approaches to sustainability.

We first published information about biosimilars in March 2017 as a result of an increased interest in the topic. At the time there were many questions about biosimilars as they became available for use in treatment. We worked directly in partnership with the Cancer Vanguard that was set up to support the introduction of biosimilars into the NHS.

This collaborative approach continues to be highlighted as good practice. More biosimilars are becoming available for other cancer treatment areas and we are regularly invited to speak about our collaboration, so that other organisation can learn from this experience. The story of biosimilar rituximab is one of success in the UK with a smooth transition. This has contributed to NHS England’s aim that at least 90% of new patients will be prescribed the best value biological medicine within 3 months of launch of a biosimilar medicine and at least 80% of existing patients within 12 months, or sooner if possible.

The objectives of the session at the ESMO 2018 Congress was to update and educate haematology healthcare professionals and policy makers in specific areas.

  • Build confidence around the use of biosimilars by providing examples of existing biosimilar use in supportive care
  • Understand the concerns patients may have while getting switched from an originator to a biosimilar
  • Inform the healthcare community about the existing challenges for the uptake of oncology biosimilars following a recent survey conducted by ESMO.
  • Assess the financial impact of oncology biosimilar on healthcare systems.

The key messages of the session were that biosimilars are effective, safe and that through a multi-stakeholder approach, with consistent information and messaging, shared decision making and sharing the gains of using biosimilars, a successful take-up of biosimilars within a healthcare system can be made.

There were six presentation by various speakers and then a panel discussion including pharma industry representatives to encourage debate. Over 200 participants were even given the opportunity to listen, learn and pose questions.

Feedback shows that many haematology healthcare professionals across Europe do not feel confident about discussing biosimilars with patients as a result of not fully understanding all the relevant information that a patient could question them on. As a result, the main take away of the session was that further education is needed across Europe and where appropriate Lymphoma Action will be at the forefront of this.