A LAWMAKER on Tuesday filed a bill that promotes using cheaper biosimilar drugs to provide affordable medical options to the poor.

In a statement on Tuesday, Albay Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente S. Salceda said he filed House Bill 9261 or the proposed Biosimilars Act to expand consumer knowledge on affordable alternatives to similar branded drugs. He added that biosimilars are “competitors’ versions of branded drugs.”

Biosimilar medicines are medicines that are different in terms of molecular size and medical production from generic medicines. It also takes a longer period for biosimilar medicines to reach the market as they require extensive trials and research as opposed to generic medicines.

“Increased education on biosimilars, and publicly available material that compares the costs of biosimilars, will allow patients and healthcare providers to make better informed choices on their healthcare preferences. Education will also improve price competition among pharmaceutical providers, as uncompetitive practices in pricing of biological products comes in part from the inability of patients to compare the prices of such products,” Mr. Salceda said.

If enacted, the bill mandates the health department to ensure resources on biological products, including biosimilar biological products and interchangeable biosimilar biological products, are available to patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers. A list of biosimilar products with their existing prices should also be available for public access and awareness.

Mr. Salceda added that the proposed measure is a response to rising hospital and medical expenses of Filipinos amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. “Part of what makes branded drugs expensive is that the consumer is paying for the brand. Healthcare is a matter of life or death, not a matter of one brand being ‘better,’ especially if the chemical composition is practically the same as cheaper drugs,” Mr. Salceda said.

Having cheaper options will also prevent the public from turning to treatments that have no locally proven medical and therapeutic claims against COVID-19.

“The people are desperate for cheaper medicine. That’s why you see this hysteria over unsubstantiated cures for COVID-19. That is not good for the people. We still need proven drugs. But, if the proven drugs have less expensive twins, the public should know these alternatives exist,” he said.

Mr. Salceda added that expanded public knowledge on biosimilar drugs will benefit the poor as they are more exposed to health risks but do not have the capacity to afford healthcare. — Gillian M. Cortez