British Columbia continues to lead the way in Canada by expanding its biosimilar program and reinvesting savings to improve patient care and make prescription medications more affordable, including for those living with diabetes.
Biosimilars are highly similar versions of bioengineered drugs, known as biologics.
As of Nov. 30, 2021, about 30,000 patients on two rapid-acting insulins will have six months to transition to two biosimilar versions to continue to receive PharmaCare coverage. People on insulin lispro (Humalog) and insulin aspart (NovoRapid) will transition to biosimilar versions, Admelog and Trurapi, respectively.
Coverage decisions are informed by evidence from international jurisdictions that have more than 10 years of experience with these drugs.
“In B.C., we examine evidence thoroughly and have already seen great successes with our biosimilars initiative with patients transitioning safely to biosimilar drugs,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “Thanks to this initiative, we are able to save more money that can be reinvested in our PharmaCare program, which means expanded drug coverage for people.”
Biosimilars cost anywhere from 25% to 50% less than biologics, yet Canada is significantly behind other jurisdictions at approximately 8% use rate. Other countries have a 50-95% use rate.
Health Canada confirms that patients and health-care providers can have confidence that biosimilars are effective and safe for each of their authorized indications. No clinical differences are expected following a change from a biosimilar to its reference biologic drug.
The initial biosimilars program announcement in May 2019 highlighted that about 20,700 British Columbians living with ankylosing spondylitis, diabetes, plaque psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis would have six months to work with their health-care team to transition their prescription from the biologic to the biosimilar drug by Nov. 25, 2019.
Exceptions may be granted for patients whose doctors determine they are medically unable to transition to a biosimilar. Exceptional coverage requests are reviewed by PharmaCare’s Special Authority branch on a case-by-case basis in consultation with physician-led advisory committees, as needed.
Patients or health-care providers with questions about transitioning to a biosimilar can access support by emailing: Biosimilars.Initiative@gov.bc.ca
Or call 1 844 915-5005 from Monday to Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The Province has supported people in the diabetes community through several initiatives, including offering coverage starting in 2018 for insulin pumps for people living with diabetes requiring one, regardless of age. More recently, in June 2021, the B.C. government announced PharmaCare coverage of the Dexcom G6 continuous glucose monitor for British Columbians.
“Covering the cost of insulin helps those who rely on it, and helps them have access to it,” said Sarah Kalcsics, who has Type 1 diabetes. “This is a good announcement because it will have a real impact on families by lessening their financial burden.”
In January 2019, B.C. made a $105-million investment over three years, to reduce and/or eliminate deductibles and co-payments for lower-income British Columbians. B.C. also held a leading role in the national Generics 2.0 agreement to lower costs of the most commonly prescribed drugs, and participates in the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance to negotiate for lower drug costs for all Canadians. British Columbia will continue to work to make sure everyone can afford and receive the medication they need.
Coverage for insulin pumps: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2018HLTH0060-001168
Coverage for Dexcom G6 continuous glucose monitor: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2021HLTH0113-001142
Visit the biosimilars initiative for patients: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/health/health-drug-coverage/pharmacare-for-bc-residents/what-we-cover/biosimilars-initiative-patients
A backgrounder follows.