A biosimilar for Rituxan has been approved for use in Europe. It is called Truxima, and will be available in the UK, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Republic of Ireland and Luxembourg.
Some background: Cancer treatments cost money to develop. When they fail, the company that develops them loses money. So be it -- it's the risk those companies take. But when they are successful, they can make billions of dollars for the business. Rituxan (also known as Mabthera is other parts of the world) is one of those successes.
The company that creates a successful treatment gets exclusive rights to that treatment for a set number of years. In a sense, this a reward for their taking the risk to do the research and testing that goes into a successful treatment.
But that reward doesn't last forever. After that set period, other companies are allowed to create "biosimilars" -- copies of the treatments that work in the same way (and, after some testing, with the same results).
A biosimilar isn't the exact same thing as the original. That's right in the name -- it is "similar" to it. The company that makes the biosimilar also has to invest in production. They have to figure out what the original treatment was, and test whether or not it will work. But they don 't have to spend money on marketing the treatment, the way the original maker had to. The biosimilar is coming into a situation where people already know that it works.
And so for that reason, biosimilars are (or should be) less expensive than the original. A lot of the cost of the treatment has already been paid. The hope is that Truxima will save patients and healthcare systems lots of money because it will be sold cheaper than Rituxan/Mabthera.
There is a chance that doctors will not prescribe the biosimilar, and will stick to the original, for whatever reason. And there is a chance that, for some patients, the biosimilar will be just different enough from the original that it won't work as well. (My wife takes a medication that just won't work in the non-original form.)
But overall, I think biosimilars are a good thing. The biosimilar version of Rituxan will likely be in the news sometime this year. I'll keep an eye out.