What are biologics and biosimilars?
Biologics are a special kind of medication used to treat certain conditions. Some examples of biologics are insulin, hormones and vaccines. Biologics have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat conditions like Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, diabetes, certain cancers and more.
Biosimilars are highly similar to biologics and have no clinically meaningful differences. Biosimilars work the same way and are taken the same way as biologics. They also have the same possible side effects as biologics.
How are biologics and biosimilars administered?
Most biologics and biosimilars can be administered (or taken) in two ways. One way is intravenously or IV (into your vein). The second way is as an injection (a shot) under your skin or into another body tissue. Some can only be administered through an IV while others come in a syringe or pen.
For IV therapy, you’ll likely have a peripheral line placed before every dose. Then, this line will be taken out when the dose is complete.
If you’re taking your medication by injection, you or a caregiver will learn to do this yourself. This includes:
- Where to administer the injection
- How to place the pen or syringe
- Where and when to push the button that provides the medication
How often are doses taken?
This can vary. It depends on things like which biologic or biosimilar you’re using and your specific condition. For example, certain medications may require a higher dose the first time (loading dose). Some may be administered every other week. Others are every month or every other month. Some, like insulin, are taken every day.
What are possible side effects of the medication?
Like all medications, biologics and biosimilars can have possible side effects. They can vary from person to person. Side effects of different biologics or biosimilars depend on the specific medication used and how it’s taken.
Most biologic drugs can cause serious allergic reactions, but they are rare. Some weaken your immune system and increase your risk of infection or other cancers.
Biologics and biosimilars that are administered by injection can cause injection site reactions. You may have redness, swelling, itching or pain around the area. These injection site reactions are usually mild and go away within a few days. Your health care team can give you tips to help prevent or manage a reaction. Certain biologics (and their biosimilars, if available) come as a citrate-free formulation to reduce injection site reaction. More new ones are being developed.
IV biologics and biosimilars can cause infusion reactions. You may feel flushed, have chills or get a rash. Sometimes you’ll get medication before or after the infusion to help prevent this.
Other side effects might include low blood pressure, headache, tiredness and muscle aches. Talk to your health care team about any side effects that you may have. Let them know if the side effects become severe or get worse. Call your doctor right away if the area starts to look infected (where the area becomes more red or painful, or warm to the touch).
What are high concentration biologics and biosimilars?
High concentration means that the same amount of drug is taken in less liquid. Today, there is only one high concentration biologic (and its approved biosimilar). But, more are being studied. Talk to your doctor to see if this may be an option for you.
CVS Specialty® can answer your questions and support you throughout your treatment journey. Call us at 1-800-237-2767 to speak to a pharmacist or nurse specially trained in caring for complex conditions and rare diseases.