Biologics are a class of drugs that were first launched in the early 1990s. They can be prescribed instead of (or in addition to) more common medical treatments.
Biologics are large, complex biological compounds that are made by living cells—bacterial or yeast cells or cells obtained from plants or animals—rather than being manufactured chemically like most other drugs. For people coping with inflammatory arthritis, biologics work by calming the immune system and thereby reducing pain, stiffness and other symptoms.
Biological products provide additional options for the treatment of arthritis.
There are different biologics that could be offered to you to treat your inflammatory arthritis. One could be more appropriate for you or your type of arthritis. Make sure you discuss with your doctor the pros and cons of the different treatments available.
Generally biologics need to be either injected or given by infusion (intravenous or IV). You can inject the biologic yourself, but infusions must be done in a clinic, a process that may take several hours to complete. You should inquire as to the dosing schedule – how often do you need to take the medication? A comparison between medication types might be an important consideration for you.
As with all treatments, people can react differently to the same medication. Some people find that biologics act very quickly (within days) to reduce their symptoms while others find that it takes longer (weeks or even months). Some people find that biologics help to reduce their symptoms while others find that they become nearly symptom-free. For others, biologics may not work at all.
When on biologics, you should reach out to your doctor:
Biologics are expensive drugs—whether you are paying for them yourself, or through a provincial or private drug plan. Biosimilars are usually less expensive than the original biologic.
Biologics are designed to calm the immune system, so when taking them, they can make it harder for your body to fight infections. You will need to be very careful to prevent infections when you are on a biologic. Also, before you start taking a biologic, you should make sure that your vaccinations are up to date and that you have seen your dentist to be sure you have no cavities or gum disease.
If you have to take antibiotics for an infection, you must temporarily stop taking your biologic until the infection is resolved. Your doctor will let you know when to resume your biologic treatment.
Biologics are a class of drugs designed to treat various conditions, including inflammatory autoimmune conditions. Biologics work to reduce the inflammation and can help to prevent further damage to the joints.
In some people with arthritis, high levels of certain proteins may be present in the blood and joints leading to inflammation (and therefore pain, swelling and stiffness). Biologics and biosimilars work to calm the body’s overactive immune system by blocking these proteins and their ability to cause inflammation.
An informative video on inflammatory arthritis and different treatment options, including biosimilars is available below. Your doctor may suggest that your biologic be taken in combination with other drugs to increase the chance of successful treatment of your arthritis.
A generic drug is a chemically manufactured drug that is an exact copy of the original drug. This is possible because the active ingredients in common medications are easy to duplicate. For example, acetaminophen in a drug store brand of pain reliever is exactly the same as the acetaminophen found in the brand name product.
In contrast, biosimilars are highly similar but not identical to the original biologic. This is because of their large size and complicated structure, and the specialized biological steps needed to make them.
Biosimilars are biologics that are produced by manufacturers after the patent on an original biologic expires. Because biologics are very complex molecules produced using living cells it is not possible to duplicate them exactly. For this reason, different versions of the same biologic are called biosimilars, because they are very similar (but not identical) to the original biologic. More information about biosimilars is available here: Health Canada .