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BC Biosimilars Initiative: Phase Two Information


Written by: CDHF

Updated: February 27th, 2023

CDHF is Canada’s trusted source for timely information on the BC Biosimilars Initiative

What’s Changing?

Since its launch, the Initiative has successfully switched many PharmaCare patients to an approved biosimilar drug. 

Each switch period is six months. If you are taking one of the originator drugs and it is covered by PharmaCare, and you don’t want to lose your coverage, speak to your prescriber before the switch period ends. Your prescriber can write you a new prescription, for the biosimilar, and your coverage will continue until the drug’s renewal date.  After the switch period ends, PharmaCare only covers the biosimilar version(s).

BC PharmaCare coverage has changed for people who take Remicade® and Humira® for the treatment of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

Current Switch Period (Humira®): 

Patients currently receiving the biologic drug Humira® will see coverage discontinued, with new coverage provided for the biosimilars versions. 

Between April 7, 2021 to October 6, 2021 anyone with existing Special Authority coverage for Humira® will be required to switch to the biosimilar versions Idacio®, Amgevita™, Hadlima®, Hyrimoz®, Hulio®. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is a Biologic?

Biologic (reference) drugs are medications made by using living organisms (such as yeast or animal cells) to produce complex proteins that are purified then administered to affect certain processes in the human body.

2. What is a Biosimilar?

A biosimilar is a drug demonstrated to be highly similar to a biologic (reference) drug, that has been authorized for sale in Canada.

3. What do experts say about the safety and efficacy of biosimilars?

Health Canada is responsible for ensuring the safety, efficacy, and quality of all new drugs including biologics and biosimilars. For a biosimilar drug to be approved in Canada, Health Canada must find no meaningful differences in safety and effectiveness compared to the biologic. The biosimilars involved in BC PharmaCare’s Biosimilars Initiative have been approved by Health Canada and are already in widespread use.

4. Do I have to switch to a biosimilar?

If you receive coverage through BC PharmaCare and you currently take Remicade® for the treatment of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you must switch to the biosimilar version before the end of the transition period (March 5,  2020) to avoid any disruption to your coverage.

There may be medical reasons why some patients cannot switch to a biosimilar. Your gastroenterologist can help you determine if it is medically necessary to remain on a biologic (originator) drug. Your gastroenterologist can submit a Special Authority Request to ask BC PharmaCare to consider continued coverage of the reference biologic drug.

5. What are the benefits of biosimilars?

Biosimilars are developed and approved based in part on data generated during the research and development of the reference biologic drug. Extensive structural and functional studies demonstrate a high degree of similarity between the biosimilar and reference biologic drug, with clinical trials in humans confirming no clinically meaningful difference in efficacy. The difference in development processes allow for biosimilars to be launched at lower prices than the reference biologics representing the potential for major cost savings that can be reinvested into the healthcare system.

Due to the cost savings provided by biosimilars, the launch of infliximab biosimilars in Canada allowed Ulcerative Colitis patients in BC, QC, NB, NS, and NL to have access to infliximab for the first time. The reference biologic (Remicade®) was not covered for Ulcerative Colitis in these provinces.

A healthy and competitive drug market can support more manufacturers to produce new and affordable drugs. Biosimilars will enable patients to have access to many other life-saving treatments. Phase 1 of BC Biosimilar Initiatives allowed BC Pharmacare to cover 2 new innovative medicines for patients with diabetes and psoriatic arthritis (Taltz and Jardiance). Phase 1 also provided Accelerated Access to biologics for Rheumatology patients. Both British Columbia and Alberta Public drug plans implemented biosimilar transition policies in 2019. This resulted in tens of thousands of patients being transitioned to a biosimilar. Part of the savings from the BC policy ($120 million over 3 years) have been reinvested to improve patient care. This includes the reimbursement of new, innovative drugs, additional nursing support for all inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients and for the fecal calprotectin diagnostic test to be covered for all IBD patients in the province.

6. Why is coverage changing in BC?

As new treatments are developed, BC PharmaCare must review which drugs are covered and carefully consider how to best meet the needs of B.C. residents. Since the introduction of biologic drugs in the 1980s, these treatments have become the biggest drug expense in Canada. As patents on biologic drugs begin to expire, other manufacturers can start producing highly similar versions of the medication with no differences, at a much lower cost. These versions are called biosimilars. Remicade is B.C.’s second largest biologic expense. By switching to a biosimilar version, you are helping save millions of dollars every year. This is an opportunity to maximize resources, expand coverage for new treatments, and improve patient access to more medications.

7. How do I maintain my Infliximab® coverage?

To maintain your coverage:

8. Are there patient support programs?

Yes. Biosimilar manufacturers are providing patient support programs (PSP) and services, and access to infusion centres similar to that of the reference biologic drug . Your prescriber can initiate the enrolment process into a PSP for you, if applicable.

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