JointHealth™ express   June 5, 2013

Good news for Alberta residents

As of this month, it has become easier to get access to tocilizumab (Actemra®) for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in Alberta.

Tocilizumab was first added to the provincial medication reimbursement plan in July 2011, making it available to people on a case-by-case basis.

Until now Arthritis Consumer Experts has viewed the criteria as overly restrictive because of the number of medications a person with RA has to trial and fail before being granted the option to take tocilizumab and be reimbursed for its cost.

Over the past 12 months, ACE’s members and JointHealth™ subscribers have been expressing concern to Alberta government officials regarding the overly restrictive criteria.

The changes to the criteria now mean that people with RA:
  • no longer need to trial and fail at least one anti-tumour necrosis factor (anti-TNF) therapy (e.g. etanercept, infliximab, or adalimumab); and,
  • no longer need to ALSO try abatacept or rituximab before being allowed to take tocilizumab.
Previously, these two criteria had to be met in addition to trying methotrexate alone, then methotrexate with a DMARD, then leflunomide. The change now saves two steps before reimbursement for tocilizumab is considered.

The result is that residents of Alberta who depend on financial assistance from the province’s drug benefit plan now have easier access to a treatment their physicians may say they need.

We are pleased about this change in criteria because it expands the treatment options for those living with RA in Alberta.

We commend the Alberta government.

We look forward to continuing to work with them to meet the arthritis challenge as part of Minister of Health Fred Horne’s call to focus efforts on preventive and primary care to reduce the strain of the aging population on the healthcare system.

Click here to view the most up-to-date version of ACE's Report Card on provincial formulary reimbursement listings for biologic response modifiers.

What is tocilizumab?
Tocilizumab belongs to the class of medications called "biologics" (short for biologic response modifiers), which target the specific pathways responsible for causing inflammation and joint destruction. Tocilizumab is the first medication designed to specifically inhibit or slow down the body's production of IL-6 (a protein that when overproduced promotes inflammation) and is effective at treating the symptoms and underlying disease process in rheumatoid arthritis.