MD to speak on B.C.’s switch to biosimilar drugs at Coquitlam meeting

What does the change to biosimilars mean for patients, CARP asks

The North Fraser chapter of Canadian Association for Retired Persons (CARP), a national advocacy group for seniors, will host a free presentation March 3 in Coquitlam to explain the impact of the arrival of biosimilar medications in B.C.

Dr. Alan Low will speak Tuesday, March 3, between 1:00 and 3:30 p.m. at the Coquitlam Legion (1025 Ridgeway Avenue). 

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Pharmacare has launched an initiative in which certain originator biologic drugs will be replaced with their biosimilar versions. This change will result in savings of nearly $100 million over three years to B.C.'s health care system, according to the province, as Pharmacare will only cover the listed biosimilar drugs. 

The medications involved in the B.C. switch are used for such conditions as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, plaque psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes and Crohn’s disease.

PharmaCare launched the first phase of the Biosimilars Initiative on May 27, 2019, with the goal of switching patients using Enbrel, Remicade and Lantus for certain indications to their biosimilar versions by Nov. 25, 2019.

In its second phase, taking place now, the Initiative will switch patients using Remicade for gastrointestinal (GI) indications (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis) to a biosimilar version. 

B.C. is reportedly the first province to make the switch to biosimilars. The province says its goal is to use the savings to in part cover the cost of new or expensive drugs still under patents and expand coverage for others.

But the switch is not without controversy, something Health Minister Adrian Dix acknowledged during his press conference last May.

“I have some empathy for that. For some people, it will take time to adjust to the idea of change,” he said at the time.

However, Dr. Low, a  pharmacist with BioPro Biologics Pharmacy and clinical associate professor at the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UBC, said while biologic and biosimilar medications are highly similar, they're not the same, and will outline what patients need to know at the upcoming CARP talk.

CARP (www.carp.ca) is a national advocacy organization for people 45+, with more than 300,000 members across Canada.  Its North Fraser chapter, spanning from Burnaby to Mission West, has more than 2,000 of these members. 

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