By Elisa Estrella
Heart and Soul Magazine is proud to highlight Alan Ryan, Director of Advocacy and Alliance Development at Sandoz (a Novartis company) this month, for the work he is doing in educating communities about affordable, innovative drug therapies called biosimilars.
When asked about his interest in pharmaceuticals, Alan stated, “Well it’s in the family.” Alan’s father was a pharmacist. This coupled with his experience as a teenager, where it was his job to drive his grandmother to her doctor appointments, had a lot to do with it. When it was time for Alan to decide on a career, it came as no surprise that Alan would choose to be a pharmacist while attending Howard University. As a student at Howard, he worked hard to help his grandmother manage her diabetes medicines. After several changes, she found an innovative therapy that worked well. Eventually when that brand product lost its patent and its generic was offered, Alan’s grandmother asked, “Is the generic safe? Is it the same?” Alan was able to reassure her, which helped increase her access to the medicine she needed.
While working as a pharmacist, Alan witnessed first hand, the struggle of people who couldn’t afford their medications. At the time, he didn’t know what he could do to help them, but the seed to be apart of the solution was planted. Visibility into this need continued in his work as a minister at church.
When faced with the high cost for prescription drugs, many Americans choose not to take their medicine. Non-adherence leads to hospitalizations when chronic conditions flare up. The flare ups leads to poorer health outcomes and higher out of pocket costs for the patients while the hospitalizations can cost the health care system billions of dollars.
After working as a pharmacist for five years, and while working on his MBA, Alan transitioned into pharmaceutical sales. Soon after, he became a National Accounts Manager, overseeing multi-billion dollars in account sales. While attending a conference, Alan became curious about a new drug therapy called biosimilars.
Having experience with generic prescriptions when they originally came to market, Alan wanted to learn more about them. For example, he learned that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved them, and since Alan understood the FDA’s rigorous approval process for medicines, he knew biosimilars must be a safe, reliable alternative drug for those patients that cannot afford the original biologic. Alan explained biosimilars are clinically equivalent to their reference biologic meaning the FDA confirms there are no clinically meaningful differences between them.
Additionally, reference biologics, over time, vary within a defined range like a soccer goal. Any ball that enters the goal considered effective. Biosimilars must also stay within the same boundaries as their respective reference brand to be clinically equivalent. Where a biologic can take ten plus years and $800 million dollars to get FDA approval a biosimilar takes seven or eight years to validate and cost anywhere between $200 and $300 million dollars to manufacture. Biosimilars are less expensive because the expense of new clinical studies have already occurred.
With biosimilars, Alan saw an opportunity to potentially close the gap between those who can afford to purchase their prescription drugs and those that cannot. It was another factor that inspired him to volunteer at Sandoz to work with organizations like the National Minority Quality Forum and the Biosimilars Forum, to partner and educate the health care community about biosimilars.
An analysis by Avalere Health for the Biosimilars Council shows that 1.2 million U.S. patients could gain access to biologics by 2025 as the result of biosimilar availability. This data also suggests that women, lower income, and elderly individuals would disproportionately benefit from access to biosimilar medicines.
Biosimilars can play a major role in determining solutions for our nation’s health care system and the people it is intended to support. It’s Alan vision that all communities will have equitable access to the best available treatments, and he works at that goal everyday.
Alan Ryan is the Director, US Advocacy and Alliance Development for Sandoz, a division of Novartis. In that capacity he leads Sandoz’s engagement with multiple stakeholders including pharmacy and payer associations, as well as patient groups. Alan is an executive pharmacist that has worked in direct patient care retail and in the pharmaceutical industry. He holds BS Pharm, MBA, MA and Master’s of Divinity degrees and is registered to practice pharmacy in Georgia. He is also a licensed minister.
Elisa Estrella is a freelance writer for Heart & Soul Magazine. Her stories have also appeared in the Baltimore Fishbowl. She has published a book of personal essays and lives in Baltimore, Maryland.