An Introduction to Biopharmaceuticals and Their Uses

By  //  September 14, 2020

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Biological medicine is usually administered through injection or infusion

Biopharmaceuticals, biological medicines or simply biologics are words that you might have heard or read in your doctor’s practice, on television or the side of a bottle in a health store.

Very few people, however, know what they are, how they are made and what their general uses are. This introduction will run through some of the most well-known biologics and how they are administered to patients.

What is a biopharmaceutical?

Simply put, a biopharmaceutical or biologics are types of hospital treatment or products that are made from living organisms or components of living organisms such as protein. They can take the form of vaccines, tissues and drugs.

To form biologics, rigorous testing must be carried out to confirm their quality and effectiveness.

How are they made?

In comparison to normal medicines, biologics cannot simply be created in a laboratory by mixing ingredients and chemicals. Made from living organisms, biologics testing and analysis is needed from experts in biochemistry, cellular biology and many other fields to ensure that the end product has all the required properties.

To take biologics that treat joint pain as an example, the medicine is made by inserting DNA into a living cell such as a mammalian or yeast cell, which will instruct the cell to produce large quantities of a specific molecule. These molecules, usually protein, are then isolated and used as the active ingredient in a drug.

What are their general uses?

Typically, biologics are used for treating long-term conditions such as psoriasis, Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Although effective, biologics can be relatively expensive and are often only administered after non-biological therapies have been attempted.

It has also been known for biologics to be used in some cancer treatments. Biopharmaceuticals can take the form of a particular antibody. In the case of cancer, these are used to treat solid tumors by targeting the receptors of immune cells, allowing them to destroy cancer cells more easily.

What are some well-known examples?

Humira, Remicade and Enbrel, used for joint pains, are all popular biologics in the US, alongside the diabetes treatment Lantus and the chronic lymphocytic leukemia treatment Rituxan.

New biologics are constantly being created and tested, and recently made up almost 40% of net drug spending in the United States. Their usage is growing, along with the variety of treatments they are used for.

How are they administered and how long do they take to work?

Biological medicine is usually administered through injection or infusion. This is because the proteins present within them are fast inactivated when taken by the mouth. They interrupt immune system signals that are relevant to the damage of joint tissue.

A decrease in symptoms can be apparent in a patient anywhere from one week to 12 weeks after starting biological treatment, with improved health ideally continuing months afterwards.

Potential side effects of taking biological medicines include allergic reactions, coughing and decreased appetite, though their safety and efficiency are constantly ascertained through tests.