British Columbia

B.C. shifting to cover cheaper 'biosimilar' drugs, health minister says

Health Minister Adrian Dix says biosimilar drugs cost anywhere from 25 per cent to 50 per cent less.

Health Minister Adrian Dix says the drugs are 25-50% cheaper

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix takes questions from reporters in April. Switching to biosimilar drugs is expected to save the province $96.6 million over the next three years, he said. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

British Columbia is changing the type of drugs funded by its prescription program by expanding the use of cheaper equivalents to treat diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said it's shifting, in part, to "biosimilar" drugs, which are new versions of existing medications that cost anywhere from 25 per cent to 50 per cent less.

On Monday, Dix said Canada has one of the lowest rates of use for the lower cost drugs, while the use of biosimilars in some European countries exceeds 90 per cent.

Dix said B.C. is the first jurisdiction in Canada to support the increased use of biosimilar drugs, which are safe and effective.

Bioengineered drugs are the single biggest expense for public drug plans. In 2018, B.C. spent $125 million on three of the drugs that treat chronic conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's.

Dix said the diabetes management drug Jardiance will be added immediately to PharmaCare, benefiting up to 22,000 patients. The addition of the arthritis drug Taltz will improve treatment options for people with arthritis, he said, and about 2,700 Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis patients will be changing to a biosimilar medicine available in coming months.

There will be a six-month transition period to the new drugs and then PharmaCare will no longer provide coverage for the original drugs.

He said the changes are expected to save the province $96.6 million over the next three years.

"What we're doing today is helping tens of thousands of people,'' said Dix.

"I think this is simply the right decision for taxpayers. Inflation of prescription drug costs, or PharmaCare costs, is growing in Canada. There are many new expensive drugs for rare diseases that provide hope for many Canadians, but we will require … to take steps to make our PharmaCare programs more efficient.''