You may have heard of Herceptin, the targeted treatment for HER2+ breast cancer whose efficacy has truly revolutionized the previously dismal outcome of this subtype. Even though Herceptin is covered by most insurance companies in the United States, this is certainly not the case in all countries and furthermore, this does not help the under- or uninsured. In order to expand access to this important medication, and to reduce the cost of treatment around the world, there needs to be competition in the market.
However unlike standard manufactured drugs, Herceptin is a “biologic” medical product, so creating a less expensive version of it once the patent expires is complex. Biologics are a type of drug made from living microorganisms in animal or plant cells, as opposed to conventional drugs that are synthesized from a combination of chemicals. Thankfully, the FDA recently approved several Herceptin “biosimilars”, officially approved versions of the drug that, like generics, are more affordable than the original. Breastcancer.org has more information on biosimilar medications in the world of breast cancer.