On May 18th, Quebec announced its intention to become the fourth province to require patients to switch to biosimilars. British Columbia and Alberta have already implemented similar policies, and in April, New Brunswick announced it will follow them.
Starting April 12, 2022, Quebec will cover, “with exceptions,” only the biosimilar version of drugs. “Despite the inclusion of several biosimilar drugs on the drug lists for many years… they remain underused,” Health Minister Chrisitan Dubé said in a release.
The province will require all patients, even those stable on their physician-chosen biologics, to switch to the government-preferred products.
Quebec’s National Institute of Excellence in Health and Social Services (INESS) had previously released a report “Safety of switching biologics and their interchangeability”. The report found:
There is very little clinician opposition to the use of biosimilars in treatment-naive patients…the picture is different and much more nuanced regarding the use of biosimilars in individuals who are already being treated with a reference biologic drug, in particular because of the risks of immunogenicity posed by the use of biologic drugs and the possible loss of efficacy.
In this respect, all the learned societies are clearly opposed to non-medical switching of a biologic drug, and instead favour medical switching, by which the decision to switch a patient’s treatment rests with the individual and his or her doctor. This position is shared by all the clinicians consulted for this project, who stress that the physician is the best person to assess the risk of treatment switching in a given patient.
The INESSS report also contrasts BC- and Alberta- style forced-substitution policies with those of Western Europe, likening it more to those in Eastern Europe:
“Most of the jurisdictions examined are in favour of switching patients being treated with a reference biologic drug to a biosimilar, but do not impose this on all patients (via financial penalties or incentives, quotas, etc.)… Only a few European countries (Denmark, Bulgaria, Poland and Serbia) and two Canadian provinces have adopted policies for mandatory non-medical switching for the vast majority of patients (national tendering processes or reimbursement of biosimilars only).”
The pro-competition, pro-physician choice policies found in most European biosimilar markets were the subject of a recent whitepaper by ASBM’s Michael Reilly and Philip Schneider; read that paper here.