November 1st, 2020

Switch to biosimilars raises concerns

By Letter to the Editor on January 7, 2020.

Crickets. That’s the reply I am getting from the UCP regarding the issue of a non-medical switch from biologics to biosimilars without doctor/patient consultation. Alberta’s leading gastroenterologists were not consulted by Minister Shandro because they refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Those of us opposed to this mandated switch are not saying biosimilars are unsafe or ineffective. According to specialists, they are an appropriate drug for the treatment of Crohn’s and Colitis as a first line of defence. The problem is those of us who are on a successful course of biologics are not guaranteed the same level of safety or efficacy. There is no way to determine beforehand who will tolerate the switch and who will face serious health issues because of it. We ask that the changes are grandfathered in, with patients currently on a biologic allowed to continue our successful treatment.

Our opposition is not about demanding “designer drugs”; over the course of our disease, we have run the gamut of horrible and ineffective medications before finally landing on something that works, giving us a close-to-normal existence. This is strictly about patient safety and choice. We also question the government’s claim of the purported cost efficiencies since Janssen, the maker of Remicade, has offered to match the cost of biosimilars. Patients who fail on a biosimilar will face even more medical interventions, adding to increased hospitalizations and lost work time.

Patients with private health insurance or those who can afford to pay out of pocket will not be affected by the policy. Those of us who do not fit into either of these categories have been relegated to a lower-tiered health-care model. Yes, there will be a committee in place to make decisions regarding exempting some patients from switching medications, but who will select the committee members and will they be medical specialists or will they be lawyers and accountants? What will their criteria be and how tightly will they be handcuffed?

As a Crohn’s patient, I worry about what might happen if I’m forced to make this non-medical switch; as the mother of a Crohn’s patient, I am terrified of what will happen if my daughter’s remission is put in jeopardy. She had her colon removed as a teenager because of Ulcerative Colitis, and a short time later was diagnosed with Crohn’s. There is no room for error in her treatment. I have lost all confidence that the UCP is looking out for her.

Tracey Elliott-Suliak


Share this story:

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I do sympathize with your plight but I must correct you on one statement. Private insurance companies have cut the scope of what they cover significantly over the past few years. Name brand drugs? Not likely if there’s a generic version available. In fact my wife has to get synvisc-one injections and they stopped covering that 2 years ago for a similar drug that is quite frankly ineffective. So that’s a couple grand out of pocket a year. On Remicade I urge you to read the Globe and Mail story on Remicade and why it’s become #1 on the prescription list. It’s great that Janssen is offering it at biosimiliar rates but is it to protect market share? Just thought I’d let you know the grass is not always greener on the other side.