A biosimilar drug is a copy that is very similar to a biologic drug. A biologic drug is a drug made by using living cells, such as animal cells, bacteria or yeast.

When a biosimilar drug is marketed, the original brand biologic drug it is compared to is called the “reference biologic drug” or “reference biologic”. The term “innovator drug” is another term used for reference drugs.

An increasing number of biosimilar drugs will be entering the market in the coming years. It is important for patients to learn about this type of drug so that they can participate actively in discussions about biologics and biosimilars with their prescriber and be aware of their treatment options.

History of biosimilar drug use

Biosimilar drugs have been available since 2005. Between 2009 and 2020, Canada authorized around 15 biosimilar drugs for sale.

Biosimilar drugs and biologic drugs are used to treat inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, cancer, diabetes and skin diseases such as psoriasis.

Since 2016, Canada has also used them to relieve adverse reactions to cancer treatment. Europe has been using biosimilar drugs for cancer treatment since 2017. Today, most biosimilar drugs used in Europe to treat cancer are used in Canada. The same is true for insulin.