Biologically created drugs are the biggest cost for public health plans like B.C. Pharmacare. (Flickr)

B.C. Pharmacare expanding use of ‘biosimilar’ drugs to save money

Europe far ahead of Canada in adopting alternative treatments

Bioengineered drugs for conditions such as diabetes and arthritis are the most expensive part of B.C.’s Pharmacare and other public drug plans, and new alternatives are being introduced.

The shift began Monday with the introduction of a diabetes drug called Jardiance, and a psoriatic arthritis drug called Talz. Coverage is also enhanced for arthritis treatments including certolizumab, leflunomide, rituximab, tocilizumab and tofacitinab.

A list of affected drug treatments can be found here.

The change is expected to save the province $96 million over the first three years, Health Minister Adrian Dix said. B.C. is following the lead of Europe in moving to alternative drugs, replacing patented treatments made from biological sources such as yeasts.

Medical experts say “biosimilars” are genetically as identical as these types of drugs can be. Affected patients in B.C. will be given a six-month transition period with their doctors to introduce the alternative treatments and identify exceptions.

“Biosimilars are a necessary step to ensure Pharmacare coverage provides existing coverage for more people and fund new drugs well into the future,” Dix said.

Cheryl Koehn, president of Arthritis Consumer Experts who has been living with rheumatoid arthritis for decades, said she works with people struggling to get reimbursement for medications recommended by their rheumatologists.

“Today’s announcement is a direct answer to this problem, clinically and financially,” Koehn said. “It ensures continued reimbursement coverage for British Columbians who transition to the next-generation biologic and ensures that reimbursement for other patents becomes available.”

Dr. Tom Elliott, medical director of B.C. Diabetes, said extending coverage for Jardiance for Type 2 diabetes is financed by savings from using insulin glargine biosimilar Basaglar in place of the biologic Lantus.

“This change will entail some inconvenience and require some adaptation for the tens of thousands of British Columbians currently using Lantus and their prescribing physicians,” Elliott said. “Patients and prescribers can rest assured that Basaglar has the same effectiveness and time release pattern, unit for unit, as Lantus.”


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