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HealthLingo: Biologic and Biosimilar

We're demystifying medicine by explaining what terminology means

Biologics and Biosimilars

I recently saw the terms biologic and biosimilar in drug ads and commercials. Can you explain what they are and how they’re used?


We’re on it and promise we’ll be careful to avoid offering up a petri dish full of terms you may not have heard since biology or chemistry class.

Biologics, or biological drugs, are produced using a living system, such as a microorganism, plant cell or animal cell. Things such as vaccines, monoclonal antibodies and gene therapies are examples of biologics. They are usually given as an injection or infusion.

That’s different from other drugs made using a chemical process (think aspirin). Biologics have been around for a long time and are used to treat many diseases, from cancer to diabetes to rheumatoid arthritis. You may have seen ads for biologics such as Humira (rheumatoid arthritis), Botox (cosmetic procedures, migraines, muscle spasms) and Avastin (cancer).

A biosimilar drug is a biologic that is highly similar to another biologic that is already Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved. There can be variations, but there are no meaningful clinical differences between the two, meaning your body will have the same response to both. Biosimilars are often cheaper to produce, partly because the hugely expensive original development was already completed for the biologic it mimics.

Biosimilars are not the same as generic medications, however, because generics are chemically identical to the brand-name product.

All drugs, including biologics and biosimilars, are regulated by the FDA.

Talk with your Lehigh Valley Health Network clinician if you have any questions about biologics or biosimilars.

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