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OPINION

Protect patients with open communication

Marcia Horn

Millions of patients throughout the world have been helped by biological medicines. They treat serious diseases, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic kidney disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

“Biologics” are derived from living cells, making them more complex than other types of medicines. They are more advanced than chemical-compound drugs because they are designed to target and treat the disease at its source.

At the International Cancer Advocacy Network (ICAN), we deal with biologics every day. The longest remission for a Stage IV colon cancer patient of ours — who had been told by a famous cancer center that there was no hope — benefited from a biologic that we recommended. My mom lived 16 years with metastatic breast cancer, and her life was extended because of a breakthrough biological drug.

As patents for brand biologics expire, many biopharma companies will offer copies of biologics — called interchangeable biological products, or “biosimilars” — thus potentially lowering health-care costs. Europe began approving biosimilars a decade ago; the U.S. began last year.

Biosimilars are designed to work like the biological medicines they imitate, but they are not the same as “generics.” A generic is an exact chemical copy of the original drug. A biosimilar can be slightly different from the original due to the complexity of the manufacturing process, transportation, or handling. These slight differences mean either product could produce adverse reactions in some patients.

Advancements in medicine often require legislative responses to ensure patient safety. And with 25 states and territories passing legislation, it’s now Michigan’s turn to pass laws to protect patients while taking advantage of potentially lower-cost biosimilars. This can be done by requiring that pharmacists communicate with physicians after patients receive a biologic or a biosimilar at the pharmacy.

House Bill 4812 was introduced by Rep. John Bizon, a physician from Battle Creek. Although the Michigan House passed this legislation requiring communication by pharmacists to physicians last November, the Senate stripped the bill of this critical aspect. Without the communication provision, it makes it more difficult for doctors to provide the best possible care to their patients.

Imagine if your doctor did not know what drug you had been given when you were battling a disease. Your physician needs a complete medical record, including the exact medicine dispensed by the pharmacy.

An incomplete record could undermine your treatment, which is unacceptable when communication with physicians is so easy in this era of electronic prescribing records and interoperable electronic health records. Patients will not accept being kept in the dark.

Since the House passed HB 4812 in November, eight states have passed similar legislation requiring communication between pharmacists and physicians.

Michigan must follow the lead of other states and pass legislation to allow interchangeable biological products into the marketplace while also requiring communication among pharmacists, physicians, and patients.

HB 4812 in its original form is Michigan’s best option to promote patient safety, ensure a complete medical record, and protect the physician-patient relationship. The Michigan Senate should amend the current legislation to put the communication provision back into House Bill 4812.

This vitally needed legislation will assist thousands across the state with the safest and most effective treatments possible.

Marcia Horn is president and CEO of the International Cancer Advocacy Network.