What’s the Difference? Teaching Kids About the Importance of Biosimilars

May 16, 2019

The two pictures displayed on the large screen told the same story: A freckled faced boy was laying on a couch with his pet cat reading a book. The subtle differences between the two pictures – like the flower missing from one of the couch pillows in the second image – didn’t change the story at all. In fact, thinking about these images in different terms, you could say that second picture was a “biosimilar” of the original, also known as the reference copy in the pharmaceutical industry.

That’s how Chrys Kokino, Mylan’s Head of Global Biologics, described what a biosimilar medicine was to a group of about 30 middle and high school students gathered at the company’s global center in Canonsburg, Pa. In fact, during a recent conversation with the group, Kokino found lots of ways to talk about the exciting work Mylan does to provide high quality medicine for the people around the world in ways that connected with these tweens and teens and, just maybe, piqued their interest in a STEM career.

“What we do here at Mylan is we take, for example, a drug that’s for cancer and we make that medicine and it’s not identical but it’s a biosimilar to the original medicine,” he said. “We make that same medicine. It’s not identical because it’s impossible to make it identical because it’s from a living cell. But more importantly, the result is the same.”

Kokino talked about the differences between generic medicines, which are made up of small molecules that he likened to beads on a necklace, and the more complex biologic and biosimilar medicines. The latter required a little more explanation: Kokino used a cinnamon raisin bagel and showed how taking off a piece and replacing it with something else formed its “biosimilar” version.

Why make these biosimilar versions of medicines if the biologics already exist? Kokino said it’s because of the high cost of biologic medicines. In the U.S., only 2% of the population uses biologics, but they account for 40% of prescription drug spending. Of the top 20 most costly drugs in the world, 12 of them are biologics representing approximately $100 billion of the approximately $153 billion spent on these medicines.

“We recognized that these drugs are so expensive and so difficult to make that we wanted to make these for patients. We want to provide these medicines to patients all over the world,” said Kokino, adding that Mylan has successfully introduced biosimilars in more than 30 countries already.

Kokino told the students about his path to Mylan, which included studying pharmacology in college and doing work on what would become one of the largest selling blood pressure drugs in the U.S. He also worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative and in marketing. He joined Mylan in 2013.

“The pharmaceutical industry really was a great way to build my career,” Kokino said, “and I now have the really good benefit of seeing how these products are commercialized all around the world.”