FDA Approves Cheaper Alternative to Specialty Anemia Drugs Epogen and Procrit

approved with pill bottle
Tori Marsh
Tori Marsh, MPH, is on the Research Team at GoodRx, and is the resident expert on drug pricing and savings.
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We have news for your healthcare wallet. The popular anemia drugs, Epogen and Procrit (epoetin alfa), will soon have a less expensive alternative, Retacrit.

Epogen and Procrit are specialty medications used to treat anemia caused by chronic kidney disease (CKD) or chemotherapy, but they don’t come cheap. A 30-day supply of Procrit costs well over $2,000 and prices for Epogen average around $600 per month.

While a discounted alternative to Epogen and Procrit is welcome, there is a catch. Retacrit is a biosimilar to Epogen and Procrit, not a generic.

What is a biosimilar?

Without getting too technical, Epogen and Procrit are biologics, brand-name medications made from living cells. A biosimilar, like Retacrit, is simply a cost-effective alternative to a biologic.

Unlike your typical generic drug which has the same active ingredient as its brand-name counterpart, biosimilars are much more complex molecularly and may have slightly different ingredients than their biologic versions.

How much will Retacrit cost?

According to its manufacturer, Pfizer, “Retacrit may provide patients and their physicians with increased access to a high-quality, lower cost alternative treatment for anemia and the reduction of allogeneic red blood cell transfusions in certain patients.” While there has been no mention of Retacrit’s exact cost, it appears that it will be more affordable than Epogen and Procrit.

Can I substitute a prescription for Epogen or Procrit with Retacrit at my pharmacy?

Unfortunately, no. This is where biosimilars differ from regular generics. Retacrit is a biosimilar, which means its active ingredients aren’t interchangeable with those in Epogen or Procrit. If you’re interested in substituting your prescription for Epogen or Procrit with Retacrit, you’ll need to ask your doctor to write you a new prescription.

What are common side effects of Retacrit?

Retacrit can cause some serious side effects including high blood pressure, chest pain, trouble breathing, leg pain, numbness, fainting, seizures, and trouble walking.

Retacrit also comes with a boxed warning, the strongest warning placed on prescription drug labels by the FDA, alerting health care providers to the increased risk of death, heart problems, stroke and cancer associated with Retacrit.

For more information on Retacrit, see Pfizer’s official press release here.

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