The past two months have been marked by significant awareness campaigns drawing attention to arthritis, with National Arthritis Awareness Month observed across Canada in September and World Arthritis Day commanding global attention on October 12. While such disease awareness campaigns give us the opportunity to encourage understanding of the disease and reflect on the impact it is having on patients and their daily life, the reality is that their plight shouldn’t be forgotten the rest of the year.
Arthritis Society data shows that six million Canadians have arthritis, and that means one in five Canadians lives with arthritis – and the pain and joint damage that often go along with it can be debilitating and lessen the ability to take care of daily tasks of living.
There are more than 100 different forms of arthritis, and some types of arthritis can affect the heart, eyes, lungs, kidneys and the skin.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of the major types of arthritis. It can begin at any age. RA is an autoimmune disease that is caused when our body attacks our own tissues and joints by mistake, causing inflammation in affected parts of the body. Signs and symptoms of RA can include fever, fatigue or weight loss.
Alleviating pain and reducing inflammation are key parts of treatments.
What role can biosimilars play for RA patients?
One category of RA treatment options that are available are biosimilars. A biosimilar is a biologic drug that is highly similar to an already authorized biologic drug, known as the reference biologic drug. According to Health Canada, there are no expected clinically meaningful differences in efficacy and safety between a biosimilar and the reference product authorized for sale.
Having similar safety and efficacy as reference biologic drugs and meeting the same rigorous regulatory standards, biosimilars have been authorized for sale in Canada since 2009 – and for arthritis since 2014.
Biosimilars for a number of biologic RA treatments are already available in Canada. From the perspective of a rheumatologist who treats patients suffering from chronic and debilitating conditions, the adoption of biosimilars can be seen as good news for patients since it expands the treatment options available to them.
Taking care of my patients is at the heart of what I do, and I believe my colleagues feel the same. Hardly a day goes by without seeing my patients’ pain, the impact on their daily life and worries over health-care costs.
Savings from biosimilars can support creating a more sustainable, cost-effective way to treat patients including RA patients.
But at the same time, there are proud moments when I, as a rheumatologist, can help my patients manage their conditions.
The availability of biosimilars could offer more choices for patients and be a way to reduce high costs. Biosimilars are typically priced lower than biologics as they do not have the same costs to bring the product to market.
Programs to transition patients from reference biologic drugs to biosimilars have been introduced by several provincial governments as part of efforts to generate savings and improve the sustainability of their drug benefit programs, with British Columbia becoming the first province to implement the change in 2019, followed by other provinces, including Alberta, New Brunswick and Quebec.
Increasing the use of biosimilars authorized for sale by Health Canada would not only allow increased access and choice, but also bring medicines at more affordable costs to the Canadian health-care system. Savings from biosimilars can support creating a more sustainable, cost-effective way to treat patients, including RA patients.
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