How do we keep up in a world where medical innovation never slows down? As the days go by, we can see more and more options in terms of drug treatment than ever before. In the pharmaceutical world, the benefits of “Small molecules vs. biologics” is an ongoing debate between manufacturers and doctors alike.
There’s a variety of options nowadays to treat diseases. Here’s where small molecules and biologics come to play. But what sets apart these two main types of drugs? Let’s find out the similarities, differences, and applications of small molecules and biologics. Before all of that let’s give you a brief introduction to what they actually are!
Small Molecule Drugs
Small molecule drugs are the primary medications widely available over the counter. They dominate the market. These compounds are either chemically synthesized or sourced from bacteria, fungi, or plants. About one-third of these drugs are made up of natural amino acids in their composition.
They heavily rely on biochemical mechanisms to treat and prevent various diseases. Some examples of small-molecule drugs are aspirin and diphenhydramine. Small-molecule medications can be manufactured by both branded or generic companies. The branded ones tend to be more expensive and are usually covered by insurance companies.
Small molecule drug development has revolutionized healthcare over the years. It has improved patient outcomes through various flexible methods. They can be used to treat both minor and chronic medical conditions. These medications are popular among medical professionals and researchers because of their simple chemical structures and low molecular weight.
They also have predictable pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic characteristics. This makes them easy to dose by medical professionals. Due to their stability, affordability, and wide availability, small-molecule drugs are also generally widely used by patients.
Biologics or Biologic Drug
Biologic drugs, often referred to as biologics, are products derived from living organisms or containing components of living organisms. They include a wide range of products generated through biotechnology. Biologics are sourced from the DNA of humans, animals, or microorganisms.
Biologic drugs may contain proteins that regulate cellular processes, genes controlling vital protein production, or modified human hormones. They can also include cells producing substances that affect the immune system. This is why they’re often called biological response modifiers, as they alter natural cellular actions.
Understanding biologics or biosimilars plays a crucial role in treating various diseases, leading to advanced therapies. They’ve revolutionized cancer care and improved immune-related disorder management. They also provide hope for the cure of rare diseases. They’ve transformed healthcare, offering hope and treatments for many conditions that are yet to be discovered in the future.
Differentiating Factors Between The Drugs
Small Molecule Drug
Easier to Prescribe
Biologics may be on the rise, but small-molecule drugs will always have a place in the industry. Small molecules have a weight advantage and straightforward chemistry behind them. This makes predicting how they work (pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics) easier, simplifying dosing.
More Stable and Accessible
Patients find small-molecule drugs more convenient too. They’re stable and easy to take orally, anytime, anywhere. In contrast, biologics are sensitive to heat, and can’t cross cell membranes. They are often injected into the body, which can be troubling to some.
Simpler To Manufacture
Developing small molecules is simpler. Biologics need strict quality control due to manufacturing risks. Small molecules, chemically made, have a more predictable process and outcome. However, this simplicity allows easy replication by generic manufacturers, both locally and internationally.
Biologics offer a significant advantage by tackling diseases that were once untreatable. Some researchers even believe that diseases currently treatable with small-molecule drugs might benefit more from biologics. This means that the possibility of developing resistance by bacterial and cancer cells is lower.
Unlike small molecule drugs, biologics provide precise targeting. They’re designed to interact specifically with the immune system. They bind tightly to their intended intracellular or cell surface targets. In contrast, small molecules interact with various receptors and channels throughout the body which can cause potential side effects and adverse reactions.
Can Be Used With Other Medication
Biologics have a low risk of interacting with other medications a patient may be taking. Proteins are metabolized and eliminated similarly to natural molecules. So the chances of drug-to-drug interactions are minimal. This is especially important for older people who are often on multiple medications.
Naturally vs. chemically Created
Biologics are distinct as they are derived from living organisms or produced using recombinant DNA technology. Whereas small-molecule drugs are chemically synthesized. While biologics represent the future of pharmaceuticals, they aren’t entirely new. Some examples of biologics are human growth hormone, insulin, and red-blood-cell stimulating agents.
New Hope For Cancer Patients
Biologics are renowned for treating cancer and autoimmune diseases. But their potential extends to a large number of conditions, including anemia, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and hepatitis. These drugs include vaccines, antibodies, therapeutic proteins, nucleic acid therapies, and various cellular therapies.
Because of cutting-edge treatments and an aging population, the markets for small molecules and biologic drugs will be growing. Both have a place in the treatment of illnesses, and neither is inherently better. Currently, biologics hold promise for treating difficult conditions, while small molecule medications provide stability and ease of administration.
Though stability and complexity are problems with biologics, there will be solutions in the future. Biologics are not new, but their recent popularity has spurred further advancements. A transition from small molecules to biologics may occur in the near future as biological limitations become obsolete.
Biologics are a wise investment, according to pharmaceutical companies. Their development times and costs are comparable to those of small-molecule medications. Additionally, the scant generic manufacturer competition guarantees a long-term strong return on investment.
How is biologics manufacturing different from small molecules?
The primary distinction between these two therapeutic modalities is that while biologics are derived from living organisms, small-molecule drugs are produced chemically.
Are biologics more expensive than small molecules?
Yes, according to market research, biologics are 22 times more expensive than a dose of small-molecule drugs.