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On behalf of the thousands of patients suffering from chronic diseases, I want to express my gratitude to the Nebraska Legislature and Gov. Pete Ricketts for passing LB 481. By signing this bill into law, patients, including my daughter Zoe, will now have access to potentially life-changing medicines.

Zoe was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at age 2. The disease caused her severe chronic pain that traditional drugs did little to alleviate. Powerless, I watched as my little girl shuffled across the floor like an old lady; as she cried because her footie pajamas were too painful to wear; and as she reached out her arms to me every time she needed to stand up, because she couldn’t do it herself.

As the months turned into years, I grappled with the daily reality of watching my child suffer -- an agonizing sense of helplessness no parent should ever have to endure.

Zoe spent years running through what seemed like every traditional treatment, until she had nearly exhausted them all. But, at age 4, Zoe was finally old enough to try a new type of drug called a biologic -- and its effects were nothing short of miraculous. Within the course of weeks, this new drug had relieved much of Zoe’s pain and drastically improved her quality of life.

I passionately believe in the revolutionary potential these drugs hold for patients because I’ve seen their incredible power firsthand. Because of biologics, Zoe was able to run, for the first time in her life, at age 4. She went from being unable to sit “criss-cross applesauce” on the floor to playing basketball and soccer like the other kids. Seeing my daughter go from tears over the pain to cheers on the field was one of the most incredible moments of both of our lives.

Biologics are truly life-changing drugs not just for kids with juvenile arthritis but also for patients suffering from chronic diseases like cancer and a host of other autoimmune conditions.

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New biosimilars, drugs that are near-replicas of their interchangeable biologic counterparts, carry enormous potential to expand treatment options for patients like Zoe who rely on these innovative medications. LB 481, which allows pharmacists to substitute an interchangeable biologic medication with an FDA-approved biosimilar, is a crucial step.

When Zoe was growing up, her doctors were like our family. Knowing that their treatment decisions were based on a deep care for her well-being, as well as full knowledge of Zoe’s medical history, was an immense source of comfort.

Because biosimilars and interchangeable biologics are not exactly the same, LB 481 contains a provision to guarantee patient safety; when pharmacists substitute an approved biosimilar for a prescribed interchangeable biologic, they must inform the prescribing physician. For families dealing with a chronic illness, I can’t overemphasize the importance of this communication to ensure patients have the utmost confidence in their course of treatment.

The passage of LB 481 is a dramatic step forward for not only children like Zoe but also the thousands of Nebraska patients who stand to benefit from the innovative new treatments biosimilars have to offer. For suffering patients, access to biologic drugs can make the difference between living in pain and living a healthy life.

Jackie Newman of Lincoln is mother to Zoe and a biosimilars patient advocate.

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