Vol. 2 No. 4 (2022)
Health Technology Reviews

Harmonization of Public Coverage Policies for Biologic Drugs in the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Published April 27, 2022

Key Messages

  • For rheumatoid arthritis (RA), treatment guidelines and clinical evidence support the combination (either dual or triple) of conventional synthetic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (csDMARDs) before accessing a biologic DMARD (bDMARD). Federal, provincial, and territorial (FPT) drug plans currently have different coverage criteria for bDMARD eligibility in RA. To align their criteria, these plans should consider the inclusion of at least 1 line of combination csDMARDs before a bDMARD:
    • For dual csDMARDs: Saskatchewan, Veterans Affairs Canada, and Canadian Armed Forces would need to change their current coverage criteria to include at least 1 line of dual csDMARDs before access to a bDMARD.
    • For triple csDMARDs: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Veterans Affairs Canada, and Canadian Armed Forces would need to alter their current coverage criteria because each of these FPT drug plans only consider csDMARD monotherapy or dual csDMARDs in their current coverage criteria.
  • Most FPT drug plans require a failure of at least 2 lines to 3 lines of csDMARD therapy before a bDMARD, except British Columbia, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Veterans Affairs Canada, and Canadian Armed Forces, which offer an option to access bDMARDs after 1 line of combination csDMARDs. British Columbia, Ontario, the Atlantic provinces, Yukon, Correctional Service of Canada, and Non-Insured Health Benefits include triple csDMARDs in their coverage criteria. Alberta, Manitoba, Veterans Affairs Canada, and Canadian Armed Forces include dual, but not triple, csDMARDs in their criteria; however, Veterans Affairs Canada and Canadian Armed Forces do not require a trial of dual csDMARDs if 2 lines of csDMARD monotherapy have been attempted. Saskatchewan is the only jurisdiction that only requires csDMARD monotherapy. Canadian private insurers have also reached a consensus to implement a trial requirement of dual csDMARDs before a bDMARD across their formularies.
  • Evidence-based guidelines, including the 2012 Canadian Rheumatology Association guidelines, recommend csDMARD monotherapy (methotrexate [MTX] is preferred unless contraindicated) as first-line treatment for RA, although a guideline published in 2018 by the Brazilian Society of Rheumatology stated that combination therapy with 2 or more csDMARDs may also be used as a first-line treatment. These guidelines generally recommend combination csDMARDs after csDMARD monotherapy is deemed ineffective.
  • A network meta-analysis found that triple csDMARDs is more efficacious than dual csDMARDs, etanercept monotherapy, and 4 mg/kg tocilizumab monotherapy and comparable to other bDMARDs (alone or in combination with MTX), targeted synthetic DMARDs in combination with MTX, and biosimilars in combination with MTX. Additionally, economic evidence demonstrated that triple csDMARDs is more cost-effective than etanercept plus MTX combination therapy.
  • Time to first bDMARD was, on average, longer in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario than in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Atlantic provinces by approximately 4 months, which may be partially explained by differences in coverage criteria for the number of prior lines of csDMARD therapy required. Increasing the time to initiating a bDMARD could lead to budget savings without impacting clinical outcomes.