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B.C. government becomes first Canadian jurisdiction to shift to cheaper biosimilar drugs

WATCH: The B.C. government is expanding the use of lower-cost drugs for PharmaCare in a move it says will save the province $96.6 million over the next three years. Today's Global News Hour at 6 Health Matters is brought to you by Pharmasave.

The B.C. government is shifting the type of drugs funded by the provincial health care system.

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced on Monday the province is expanding the use of lower-cost drugs known as biosimilars, which the government says will create opportunities for new drug listings and boost existing coverage for patients.

Dix says biosimilars can cost anywhere from 25 to 50 per cent less than biologic drugs that are engineered using living organisms like yeast and bacteria.

“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. To date, Canada is far behind European jurisdictions,” he said.

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

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The change with have an immediate effect on the listing of Jardiance, a diabetes drug as well as the psoriatic arthritis drug Taltz.

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The changes are expected to save B.C. $96.6 million over the next three years.

According to the province, biologics are the single biggest expense for public drug plans. In 2018, B.C. spent $125 million on three biologic drugs — Lantus, Enbrel and Remicade — that treat chronic conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, and Crohn’s disease.

The more than 20,000 British Columbians living with either ankylosing spondylitis, diabetes, plaque psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis will have until Nov. 25 to transition their prescription from the biologic to the biosimilar drug.

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After that, PharmaCare will no longer provide coverage for the original biologic drug, except for exceptional cases.

The announcement will no doubt bring concern from the drug companies that produce biologics and could lead to frustration in patients currently prescribed to the drugs.

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Many groups — including the BC Society of Rheumatologists, Doctors of BC, Canadian Arthritis Society, B.C. Pharmacy Association, and Health Canada — support the change.

“This is a no-brainer,” Arthritis Research Canada scientific director Dr. John Esdaile said.

“Huge experience in Europe has no difference in safety concerns.”

According to the health ministry, savings created by the change has allowed British Columbia to provide Jardiance, which is now listed as a limited coverage benefit under PharmaCare.

Approximately 22,000 patients could stand to benefit from the listing, which will cost roughly $4.1 million this fiscal year and $18.9 million over three years.

“What we are doing today is helping tens of thousands of British Columbians,” Dix said.

Major Drug Changes

  • Rheumatology patients will transition from the etanercept biologic Enbrel to the biosimilar Brenzys or Erelzi
  • Dermatology and rheumatology patients will transition from the infliximab biologic Remicade to the biosimilar Inflectra or Renflexis
  • Endocrinology patients will transition from insulin glargine biologic Lantus to the biosimilar Basaglar
  • Gastrointestinal patients will transition from the infliximab biologic Remicade to the biosimilar Inflectra or Renflexis, with more information to come in the coming months.
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