In South Africa, two out of every five deaths can be attributed to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and injuries; 40% of deaths among men, and 29% among women are premature and before the age of 60. Over 40% of the population suffers from high blood pressure, and over 10% has high blood glucose, increasing the risk for diabetes.

The NCDs causing the highest number of deaths in SA are cardiovascular diseases (18%), cancer (7%), respiratory diseases (4%), diabetes (2%) and other NCDs such as asthma and cataracts (9%).

While NCDs are the leading causes of death globally, SA is still battling the HIV/AIDS and TB epidemics, which top the mortality lists. But NCDs are fast catching up and more and more South Africans are becoming ill and dying from these diseases. NCDs make up four of the top 10 causes of death in South Africa – and these numbers are on the rise, according to Statistics South Africa.

Three things that can help combat the plight of NCDs include: the reduction of underlying risk factors (tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diets, and harmful use of alcohol), early detection, and timely treatments.

It is in the last of the three, namely timely treatments, that the use of biologics and biosimilars can make such a huge difference to South Africans.

Pharmaceutical company, Novartis has been one of the pioneers in the area of NCDs through its wide portfolio of biologic and biosimilar treatments and the company continually conducts research to discover other breakthrough medicines in this regard.

The role of biologics and biosimilar treatments

Biologics are made using human or animal proteins – a complicated and lengthy process. They do something which normal medications cannot do, namely block specific interactions in the immune system, and so are able to fight diseases in a new and effective manner.

Biologics are particularly effective in treating inflammation, auto-immune diseases, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and metabolic conditions; all of which are on the rise in South Africa.

A substantial amount of time and research goes into developing biologics and there are strict guidelines to which these medicines must adhere, making their timeframe for entry to market that much longer. However, biosimilars, which are similar to existing biological medicines, are already approved for use, and have specifically been developed to make quick and affordable access to treatments by more South Africans a reality.

Novartis was the first to develop and launch biosimilars in every major region of the world and they currently have 11 biosimilar medicines in the pipeline, with six more to follow in 2018.

“Sandoz, Novartis’ generic and biosimilar pharmaceutical division, has decades of experience in pharmaceutical biotechnology and is recognised as a worldwide pioneer and leader in the production of biosimilars, which are safe, effective, high quality and affordable versions of existing biological medicines,” said CEO and Country President of Novartis SA, Dr Thomas Kowallik.

Part of the SA government’s plan to combat the rising number of deaths from NCDs lies in the cost-effective management (by treatment) of high-risk individuals], and it is here that the biosimilars can save a huge number of lives in SA.

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