An information campaign to educate and inform patients about biosimilar medicines is launched today (3 March) by Arthritis Ireland.

Biosimilar medicines are being prescribed for a growing number of patients in Ireland, including those with inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, which affects 45,000 people in Ireland. One of the key drivers for the uptake of biosimilars is the savings to be made in the HSE’s medicines budget.

A biosimilar medicine is a highly similar, but not identical, copy of an originator biologic (or “branded”) medicine. The first ever biosimilar medicine was licensed in 2006, with a growing number of biosimilars now approved for use in Ireland.

According to the HSE1, the State spent €225 million in 2017 on biological medicines containing TNF inhibitors used to treat inflammatory diseases.

Prof David Kane“Across the board, there is a lack of understanding about the differences between branded, generic and biosimilars medicines,” said Prof. David Kane, consultant rheumatologist at Tallaght University Hospital and the national clinical lead for rheumatology.

“As we move towards more cost-effective prescribing in Ireland, we will see biosimilars coming up more frequently. There is a myth that biosimilar medicines are the cheaper, less-effective cousins of branded medicines. This simply isn’t true.

“For arthritis patients who could have been on the same medicine for years, the idea of being switched to something new may be a concern for them. Studies have confirmed that the biosimilars used in Ireland are just as effective as the originator medicines and that switching is both safe and effective. New patients, too, want to know that they are getting the appropriate medication to treat their disease. As consultants, this is a key priority,” Prof. Kane stated.

“Biosimilars are approved according to the same strict standards of quality, safety and efficacy that apply to any other medicine,” he added.

Speaking about the launch of the campaign, chief executive of Arthritis Ireland, Gráinne O’Leary said: “It is really important that patients understand the medicines they are currently on and what other treatments are out there. This is the case whether someone is newly diagnosed or living with arthritis for a period of time.

"It is welcome that more treatment options, like biosimilars, are becoming available. Not every arthritis patient will be offered a biosimilar, nor may they be a fit for this type of medicine. Our role in Arthritis Ireland is to ensure that patients are empowered with the knowledge to understand what is being proposed for their treatment and are able to discuss their treatment plan and options with their doctor. For existing patients, any decision to switch should be based on a shared decision between the patient and their consultant,” Ms O’Leary advised.

Commenting on the campaign, Owen McKeon, country manager of Mylan, said: “We’re very supportive of this campaign and think its timely that patients are being offered expert, clinical advice about biosimilars.

“These medicines can offer access to rheumatology treatments for a larger number of patients and the opportunity to make significant savings in the healthcare system.”

 With hospitals being incentivised through a gain-share scheme to prescribe more best value biologics, Arthritis Ireland’s new campaign seeks to educate patients about the different types of treatments and how to discuss their options with medical professionals.

Information about biosimilars is available on the Arthritis Ireland website and via its social media channels. 

The Biosimilars Explained campaign is supported by Mylan.


1.  Medicines Management Programme (2019). “Best-Value Biological Medicines: Tumour Necrosis Factor-α Inhibitors on the High Tech Drug Scheme”. Available at: