The Ministry of Health is introducing a biosimilars initiative that will ensure Saskatchewan residents have access to high-quality medications at a lower cost.

Biosimilars are versions of drugs that are made when an original biologic drug (known as a reference drug) no longer has patent protection. A biosimilar has the same active ingredients as the original drug but is less expensive.

Biosimilars are made to the same standards as original biologic drugs and have met Health Canada’s regulatory requirements for efficacy and safety.

“This initiative will ensure access to high-quality, essential medications for Saskatchewan residents remains sustainable into the future,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said. “The savings will be reinvested into the Saskatchewan Drug Plan to support patient access to public drug coverage and new drug benefits.”

To date, six other provinces and territories have successfully implemented similar policies to increase use of biosimilar drugs.

“Biosimilars are high-quality drugs that are as effective and safe as the reference biologic but are available at a much lower cost,” Arthritis Research Canada Scientific Director Emeritus Dr. John Esdaile said. “Having successfully gone through the transition process with patients in B.C. starting in 2019, patients and providers should feel confident about the transitioning to biosimilars in Saskatchewan.”

Biologic drugs are used to treat such conditions as diabetes, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease. The biosimilars initiative will include 10 medications covered by the Saskatchewan Drug Plan, along with additional products as biosimilars become available.

Biologic drugs contribute significantly to rising drug plan expenditures and the cost is growing, placing pressure on drug plan sustainability. For example, in 2018, biologics costing over $10,000 per patient per year made up over 70 per cent of biologic spending in Canada. Saskatchewan spent 35.7 per cent of its drug budget on biologics, despite these accounting for only 3.1 per cent of total drug claims. The Ministry of Health estimates that the province will see annual savings of approximately $20 million once patients complete the transition to biosimilars by May 1, 2023.

For new patients starting a biologic drug, the Saskatchewan Drug Plan will only offer coverage for the listed biosimilar version(s).

Approximately 24,000 existing patients already receiving an original biologic drug are expected to transition to a biosimilar version by April 30, 2023. Exemptions will be considered for those who cannot use a biosimilar for a medical reason. Prescribers will be able to submit a request and supply clinical rationale for review on a case-by-case basis.