We see the term biologics a lot, especially in the medical world. Yet, for many there exists a confusion as to the specific meaning behind this ambiguous term. After all, we see the term “biological” in everything from skincare products to laundry detergent. If you’ve ever wondered what exactly biologics are, what they treat and how they feature in the medical landscape, hopefully this article will shed some light.
So, let’s start at the very beginning…
What are biologics?
Biologics, and by extension biological products, are medical solutions that use substances or compounds based on living tissues as an alternative or supplement to small molecule pharmaceuticals. They may be based on human, animal or microorganism materials and can be used to make everything from vaccines to blood products.
They are composed of proteins, sugars, nucleic acids and combinations of the same. Biological drugs are manufactured through a process of chemical synthesis. They are administered in the form of a liquid which is introduced intravenously, either through a drip or an injection pen.
What are biologics used to treat?
Aside from blood products and vaccines, biologics are usually used to treat long-term chronic conditions. To date, biologics have been used successfully in the treatment of conditions like;
- Crohn’s disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Ankylosing Spondylitis
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Ulcerative colitis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Breast and other cancers
What makes biologics effective?
Biologics are more effective than small molecule drugs in many cases (especially when combating inflammatory conditions) because their reaction to a target is highly specific and this results in lower toxicity and fewer unwanted side effects. Production of biological medicines, however, is highly complex when compared to the manufacture of small molecule drugs and this, along with a lack of capacity for oral administration, has created a bottlenecking for the use of biologics.
What are biosimilars and why are they important?
While biologics have many benefits, they can be extremely expensive (in excess of $100,000 per patient per year) and as such have become cost prohibitive for some. Biosimilars are newer versions of biologics which are every bit as safe and effective as original biologicals yet tend to be less expensive. The relationship between originals and biosimilars is not unlike the relationship between branded drugs and their generic counterparts. Yet while generic drugs are identical copies of branded drugs, biosimilars are just that… Similar.
Nonetheless, the use of biosimilars can save healthcare bodies and insurance companies a great deal of money and this can only help to ensure that biologics play an increasing role in the future of healthcare.
What are the biggest developments in biologics?
Biologics are poised to change the world of medicine. As biotech becomes increasingly advanced, certain biologics markets are likely to boom in the coming years. With the rise of biosimilars we can expect the 2020s to usher in a rise in biologics markets like;
- Biotherapeutics (treatment of metabolic and inflammatory conditions)
- Immunotherapies and antibodies
- Gene and cell therapies
One thing’s for sure, as biologics become more sophisticated and affordable, there’s no telling what breakthroughs they will help to facilitate.