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The Value of Biosimilars for Public Drug Plans

By Jim Keon, President of Biosimilars Canada

The healthcare crisis is a challenge every government in Canada is grappling with.

Emergency rooms are overwhelmed. Shortages of nurses and family doctors continue to worsen. The increasing demands for biologic drugs and expensive innovative new treatments are putting the sustainability of drug benefit plans at risk.

There are few solutions to such healthcare challenges that allow governments to provide more value to taxpayers for the same dollars. But that is precisely the value proposition provided through the expanded use of biosimilar medicines.

By adopting biosimilar switching policies, governments can achieve significant savings that can be redirected to fund other healthcare priorities. These policies involve having patients make a one-time physician-supervised switch from a biologic drug to a corresponding biosimilar biologic drug.

Health Canada confirms that “No differences are expected in efficacy and safety following a change in routine use between a biosimilar and its reference biologic drug in an authorized indication” and “There are no expected clinically meaningful differences in efficacy and safety between a biosimilar and the biologic drug that was already authorized for sale.”

To date, seven Canadian jurisdictions have adopted biosimilar switching policies:  British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and the Northwest Territories.

And the results have been dramatic:

  • Quebec expects to save $140 million in the first year, which will be reinvested into the healthcare system and improve access to innovative drug therapies.
  • British Columbia – the first province to adopt the policy – has already saved tens of millions of dollars, which has allowed the province to cover diabetes drug Jardiance and psoriatic arthritis drug Taltz. BC has also expanded coverage for other arthritis drugs, and for non-invasive fecal calprotectin testing for IBD patients.
  • Alberta expects to achieve savings of between $227 million and $380 million over four years, which is being reinvested into healthcare services.

Even smaller jurisdictions are achieving major savings by making the switch to biosimilars.

  • Saskatchewan, the most recent province to adopt a switching policy, expects to save more than $20 million annually, which will support new drug benefits and ensure the overall sustainability of the plan.
  • Nova Scotia expects annual savings of $13 million once its switching policy is fully implemented, which will be reinvested in healthcare. This means even more people will be able to receive care and treatment.
  • In New Brunswick, annual savings of $10 million are being used to improve the sustainability of the province’s public drug benefit plans.
  • In the Northwest Territories, the savings from switching to biosimilars are being reinvested to increase the medications that the supplementary health benefits programs can cover in the future.

Biosimilars switching policies alone will not solve the healthcare crisis. But they can reduce some of the pressure on the healthcare system and must not be overlooked.

For example, Biosimilars Canada estimates that Ontario could save $3 million dollars every week – almost $150 million annually – by adopting a biosimilars switching policy.

For its part, Manitoba could save more than $575,000 every week. That’s about $30 million annually.

When it comes to the current healthcare crisis, every dollar counts.

It is time for Ontario, Manitoba, and PEI to take action to realize the full benefits of biosimilar medicines by adopting biosimilar switching policies without further delay.