Province Extends Coverage For Expensive MS Drug

For those suffering from Multiple Sclerosis of MS there is a bit of optimism as the Province announced it has now added the medication Ocrevus to the Saskatchewan Formulary.

Ocrevus is delivered intraveniously - Government of Saskatchewan Photo

Ocrevus is delivered intraveniously - Government of Saskatchewan Photo

According to the MS Society of Canada’s web-site Ocrevus is a monoclonal antibody that specifically targets CD20, a protein that is found on the surface of white blood cells called B lymphocytes or B cells. Because of this property, ocrelizumab acts as an immunomodulatory drug by targeting and removing potentially harmful B cells in people living with MS.

The medication has been called a “game changer” by those with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS) as it is the first ever medication approved for that form of MS.

On February 15, Hoffmann-La Roche Limited (Roche Canada) announced Health Canada’s approval of ocrelizumab (Ocrevus) the first disease modifying therapy approved, with conditions, for the management of adult patients with early PPMS. It is also thirteenth option for patients suffering with the most common form of MS Relapsing Remitting (RRMS).

“Our government is committed to providing Saskatchewan residents with better access to innovative new treatment options,” Health Minister Jim Reiter said in a news release.  “Ocrevus will be the first drug treatment option approved for the primary progressive form of multiple sclerosis.  It offers a treatment option that may slow the progression of multiple sclerosis and improve patients’ quality of life.”

When first authorized for use in the United States in 2017 the annual cost of Ocrevus was $65,000 USD.

For MS patients here the medication’s listing in the Saskatchewan Formulary means the costs will not be so drastic. The Saskatchewan Formulary is a list of medications that is approved for coverage under the Drug Plan so Saskatchewan residents will not be shouldered with the massive costs.

The Saskatchewan Formulary offers a variety of options for MS treatment.  Ocrevus is the first that can be used to treat both primary progressive MS and relapsing remitting MS.  Last year, the provincial government spent about $17 million on MS medications for eligible patients.

MS is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord).

The disease attacks myelin, the protective covering of the nerves, causing inflammation and often damaging the myelin. Myelin is necessary for the transmission of nerve impulses through nerve fibres. If damage to myelin is slight, nerve impulses travel with minor interruptions; however, if damage is substantial and if scar tissue replaces the myelin, nerve impulses may be completely disrupted, and the nerve fibres themselves can be damaged.

MS is unpredictable and can cause symptoms such as extreme fatigue, lack of coordination, weakness, tingling, impaired sensation, vision problems, bladder problems, cognitive impairment and mood changes. Its effects can be physical, emotional and financial. 

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