BC announces expanded use of biosimilars

The province is improving the sustainability of its public drug plan with a Canada-leading initiative

BC announces expanded use of biosimilars

British Columbia is expanding its use of biosimilars to open up opportunities for new drug listings and boost existing coverage for patients, the province announced on Monday.

“B.C. is leading the country by promoting the widespread use of biosimilars, which have been proven to work just as safely and effectively as higher priced biologics,” said BC Minister of Health Adrian Dix. “To date, Canada is far behind European jurisdictions. Biosimilars are a necessary step to ensure PharmaCare provides existing coverage for more people and funds new drugs well into the future.”

According to the statement from the province, there’s clear evidence supporting the use of biosimilars that can cost from 25% to 50% less than their biologic analogs. Despite this, Canada has a significantly lower use rate (8%) than what is seen among other nations (50% to 95%).

“In 2018, B.C. spent $125 million on Lantus, Enbrel and Remicade, three biologic drugs that treat chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and Crohn’s disease,” the statement said, noting that they made up the single biggest expense for public drug plan — and the costs are still climbing.

Following the announcement, around 20,400 British Columbians living with ankylosing spondylitis, diabetes, plaque psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis will have until November 25 to work with their health-care team to transition from their current biologic prescription to its biosimilar equivalent. After that deadline, PharmaCare will not cover the original biologic drug for the conditions, save for exceptional cases.

The province’s planned move to biosimilars came after a consultation with stakeholders and expressions of support from prescribers and patient groups. These include the BC Society of Rheumatologists, Doctors of BC, BC Pharmacy Association, Health Canada, the Patented Prices Medicine Review Board, and the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance.

“Roughly 2,700 Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis patients will also be transitioning to their biosimilar treatment option in the coming months, the province said. “More information for gastroenterology patients will be available in summer 2019. … By increasing the use of biosimilars, B.C. will save about $96.6 million over the first three years which will be redirected to support additional drug listings and improved patient coverage.”

Jardiance (empagliflozin), a drug to manage diabetes, has been listed as a limited coverage benefit under the province’s PharmaCare plan as of May 27. The psoriatic arthritis drug Taltz (ixekizumab) is also being added as a limited coverage benefit, and coverage for existing arthritis drugs will also be expanded. PharmaCare coverage for similar arthritis drugs (DMARDs, certolizumab, leflunomide, rituximab, tocilizumab, and tofacitinib) will also be broadened through reduced coverage pre-requirements and extended coverage periods, among other means.

Following the announcement, the national association representing Canada’s biosimilar medicines industry issued a statement welcoming the effort.

“Biosimilar medicines have an important role in supporting health care sustainability and patient care,” said Michel Robidoux, chair of Biosimilars Canada, who is also president and general manager of Sandoz Canada.

“Switching or transitioning patients from original biologic treatments to their corresponding biosimilar medicines is the responsible choice for those who manage drug budgets, and will help to ensure patient access to essential treatments for years to come,” added Jim Keon, president of Biosimilars Canada.


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