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Government-sponsored

Biosimilar initiative

The Alberta government, under the Alberta Biosimilars Initiative, is changing the funding of select biologic medications for adult patients on Alberta government sponsored drug plans

Alberta spent more than $238 million in the 2018 to 2019 fiscal year on biologic drugs and these costs are increasing every year. Costs per patient for originator biologics can be more than $25,000 per patient per year, with biosimilar versions costing up to 50 per cent less than originator biologics.

Alberta is implementing the Biosimilar Initiative which will save approximately $30 million annually that can be invested into other health care services for Albertans.

Frequently asked questions

Does this apply to Alberta Blue Cross group or individual plans?

No; this program will only apply to Alberta government sponsored drug programs.

Does this apply to all members of Alberta government sponsored plans?

This program applies to all Alberta government sponsored plans including Group 1, Group 66, Palliative Care and Alberta Human Services.

This change applies to adult patients. Patients under the age of 18 years are not required to switch to the biosimilar at this time.

What is a biosimilar?

Biologics are drugs made in, taken from or partly-made from living cells through a complex manufacturing process. The first version of a biologic drug is called an originator biologic drug but may also be called an innovator or reference biologic.

A biosimilar drug, or biosimilar, is a biologic drug that is very similar to but less expensive than its originator biologic drug. Biosimilars become available after the patent on the originator biologic drug expires. There are no expected differences in efficacy and safety between a biosimilar and the originator biologic drug.

What is changing with the Biosimilar Initiative?

Albertans using certain originator biologic drugs that are covered by an Alberta government sponsored drug plans will need to switch to the biosimilar version by June 30, 2020 to continue coverage of that drug. Effective July 1, 2020, the Alberta government sponsored drug plans will no longer reimburse the originator biologic.

For individuals starting a biologic or changing their biologic drug, a tiered framework will apply requiring cost-effective biologic agents to be used first. However, there are several medication options available to continue to provide choice to patients and physicians.

How do I find out if I need to switch my medication?

If you are over 18 years of age and taking one of the following products you need to switch to the biosimilar version by June 30, 2020. You may also talk to your health care professional to determine if your product will be affected.

  • Remicade (all indications)
  • Enbrel (all indications except plaque psoriasis and pediatric juvenile idiopathic arthritis)
  • Lantus (all indications)
  • Neupogen (all indications)
  • Neulasta (all indications)
  • Copaxone (all indications)

Are biosimilars safe?

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

Will biosimilars be as effective as the original drugs?

Though a biosimilar is not identical to an originator drug, there are no clinically meaningful differences between them. The safety, efficacy and similar health outcomes of biosimilars is evidenced by a large body of clinical studies. Health Canada expects no clinical differences between a biosimilar and its originator biologic and assures patient and health professionals can have confidence that biosimilars are safe and effective for their approved indications.

For Remicade ® and other biologics that are distributed at infusion centres, will patients have to go to a different infusion centre after switching to a biosimilar?

As part of the biosimilar transition, they may have to go to a new infusion centre to receive their infliximab infusion. Your health care provider will collaborate with the patient support program for the biosimilarto help coordinate this change. For Inflectra, contact the Inflectra Patient Assistance Program at 1-844-466-6627. For Renflexis, contact the Merck Harmony® Patient Support Program at 1-866-556-5663.

Is there further information about this change?

Yes; a patient information sheet and list of patient resources can be found below.