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Biological Drugs: Drugs of The Future

Timothy Nelson, PharmD Candidate Class of 2009
Shenandoah University Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy
Prepared during Consumer Health Information Corporation Clerkship


Dorothy L. Smith, Pharm.D.

CEO and President

Consumer Health Information Corporation

McLean, Virginia

Medicine has come a long way in a very short time.  Huge leaps in the field of medicine have opened the door for new and interesting drugs.  New and interesting drugs make a big difference in our everyday lives. The most exciting of these new drugs are the biologicals.  These drugs offer better treatment options for consumers than ever before. 


Watching the TV, listening to the radio, or reading a magazine or newspaper you seem to see or hear the words “biotechnology” or “biological drugs” more and more often.  So you have to wonder:


“What are biological drugs and how are they different from the normal drugs we are used to taking?” 


The difference between biological drugs and normal prescription drugs is that biological drugs have almost “pinpoint” accuracy and can search out the diseased organs or cells that need to be treated.  These drugs of the future are being developed through advanced technology called “genetic modification”. 


Safe, effective healthcare is a key concern all over the world. When some consumers hear the words “genetic modification”, they immediately have fears about side effects and environmental dangers because of what they have heard in the media.  Most surveys show that consumers are in favor of biological drugs once they know they are safe treatments.   


How do Biological Drugs Work?


Most of the biological drugs used by doctors today are monoclonal antibodies (mAbs).  Antibodies are a normal part of everyone’s immune system.  These antibodies help the body fight disease every day.  Monoclonal antibodies on the other hand have been specially changed so that they can treat a specific disease.  These are special in that when they are given to a person, they are able to find the specific area in the body which needs drug treatment.  For example monoclonal antibodies are able to specially search and find cancer cells in the body and treat them only.  Monoclonal antibodies find diseased cells so well that they make it possible for patients to have safe and effective treatments with fewer side effects. 


Monoclonal antibodies do not pass though the body like normal medicines  That means that there is often less chance of side effects in other areas of the body not being treated.  As with any drug there are side effects.  Most of the side effects are usually limited to mild to moderate.  However sometimes biological drugs have rare side effects that can be severe and life-threatening.


The new treatments offer less discomfort and much better outcomes. For example,  patients with rheumatoid arthritis being treated with the biological drug called Humira® can avoid the side effects such as sores in the mouth, nausea and vomiting which were common with older treatments.  Humira® has a shorter treatment time and a longer time between remissions.  The most common side effects of Humira® are injection site reaction, headaches and rash.  However patients taking Humira® can also have serious but rare reactions such as infections, cancer and neurological reactions.    



What Does the Future Hold? 


Biological drugs are the drugs of the future.  They are showing to have better long term outcomes with fewer costly side effects. Studies show that this leads to quicker recovery time and less additional treatments because they have fewer side effects.  To the consumer, one of the most important advantages of being treated with these new drugs is the improvement in their quality of life over the long term.


There are only eighteen FDA-approved biological drugs on the market.  These drugs are being used to treat such diseases as rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and asthma. They are also being used to treat cancers such as B-cell lymphoma.


One of the biggest concerns of consumers when it comes to healthcare is cost.   Biological drugs are currently more costly but will become cheaper in the future as they are made in larger quantities.  The recognition of the potential benefits of these drugs has put them on the fast track for FDA approval.  The development of biological drugs is growing so fast that most of these medicines have gained approval only within the last ten years. With the largest part of our population about to retire, placing more and more strain on the healthcare system, biological drugs may offer a solution.


Advancements in the development of biological drugs will not be slowing down in the future.  Biological drugs are on the fast track. Hopefully they will be available for the treatment of many more diseases.  The future of medicine is now.


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