Saskatchewan joined 5 provinces and 1 territory in implementing a biosimilar switching policy, allowing for reference products to be switched out for biosimilars and lowering drug costs for the province’s public health plan.
The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health announced that it will implement a biosimilars switching policy, making it the sixth Canadian province and seventh jurisdiction to do so. Saskatchewan joins British Columbia (BC), Quebec, Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Northwest Territories.
“This initiative will ensure access to high-quality, essential medications for Saskatchewan residents remains sustainable into the future…. The savings will be reinvested into the Saskatchewan Drug Plan to support patient access to public drug coverage and new drug benefits,” Paul Merriman, health minister of Saskatchewan, commented.
John Esdaile, MD, scientific director of Arthritis Research Canada applauded BC’s program and its transition plan, saying that it could ease Saskatchewan citizens who may be worried about their prescriptions changing.
“Having successfully gone through the transition process with patients in BC starting in 2019, patients and providers should feel confident about the transitioning to biosimilars in Saskatchewan,” he said.
In BC, eligible patients were alerted in advance that their prescriptions would be changed to a biosimilar. The program was rolled out in multiple phases, which each progression adding more originators to the list of biologics that would no longer be covered by the province’s public health plan.
Biosimilars Canada, a national association representing the biosimilar industry in Canada, released a statement on the measure, saying that it hopes that the remaining provinces and territories (Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Yukon, and Nunavut) will follow in Saskatchewan’s footsteps to implement similar policies.
According to the organization, about 24,000 patients in Saskatchewan who are being treated with an originator biologic are expected to transition to a biosimilar version over the next 6 months.
Although biologic drugs have been revolutionary in the fight to treat several chronic conditions and cancers, originator biologics can cost between $10,000 and $25,000 or more annually per patient, which can place a large financial strain on drug budgets. The Ministry of Health estimated that Saskatchewan could save $20 million once the transition period is complete.
“Biosimilars Canada congratulates Health Minister Paul Merriman and the government of Saskatchewan for implementing a biosimilar switching policy and reinvesting the savings to support patient access to public drug coverage and new drug benefits…. Expanding the use of biosimilars through a switching policy is an important way to ensure the sustainability of drug plans and make the most effective use of taxpayer dollars,” said Jim Keon, president of Biosimilars Canada.
The statement comes shortly after the advocacy group held a press conference calling on Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, to put a biosimilar switching initiative in place in the province.
Patients who are covered by the Saskatchewan Drug Plan and use certain biologic drugs to treat conditions including arthritis, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and psoriasis will have to switch to a biosimilar version of their medicine by April 30, 2023. Canada currently has 49 approved biosimilars.