B.C. health minister approves coverage for new round of rare drugs

VICTORIA — Health Minister Adrian Dix has approved limited coverage for a new round of rare and expensive drugs, funded out of savings the government achieved from a recent federal deal that drove down the price of generic drugs.

Dix has approved coverage of Lemtrada (a drug for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis), Firazyr (for treatment of acute attacks of hereditary angioedema), Zaxine (hepatic encephalopathy) and Ofev and Esbriet (both used to treat idopathic pulmonary fibrosis).

The combined coverage of the five drugs could potentially help up to 1,500 patients in B.C., at a cost of almost $30 million over three years.

The pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance announced last month that the generic drug industry had agreed to cut prices up to 40 per cent for provincial plans in 2018.

“These are drugs approved through the common drug process and people have been waiting for them for a long time,” said Dix. “We got through a review stage, and also we found the money. There are significant cost implications. Part of the reason we are able to do this is we saved $20 million on the generic drug deal.”

The drugs have already gone through the common drug review and B.C. Drug Benefit Council review processes, and been recommended for limited coverage for patients in certain circumstances that meet specific medical criteria.

“The reasons we have independent processes is to ensure we make the right decisions,” said Dix. “But the costs are significant.”

The government’s coverage of expensive drugs for rare disorders has been in the news recently after the case of two specific drugs attracted controversy.

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A University of B.C. student needed the the drug Solaris, which costs $700,000 a year, to treat her rare condition of atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome late last year, sparking a debate over whether Dix should intervene personally to approve the drug and potentially save the student’s life. Dix said it was inappropriate for the minister of health to set drug approval policies, and send Solaris — which is covered in some other provinces — to a special review committee to be considered in extraordinary circumstances on a case-by-case basis. The student’s coverage was approved.

The government refused to budge, however, in a different case involving a University of Victoria student with cystic fibrosis who ran out of coverage for a drug called Orkambi, which costs $250,000 a year. Dix instead sharply criticized the drug company Vertex for its steep pricing, aggressive negotiation tactics and lack of approval in other provinces. He suggested Vertex resubmit to the common drug review process using additional clinical data.



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