JointHealth™ express   February 4, 2006

Arthritis Consumer Experts is committed to delivering breaking arthritis news to Canadians living with it, their family, friends and the public. In this issue of JointHealth™ express, we bring you the latest medication safety and reimbursement coverage news and ask for your help in informing our new government about arthritis.


Health Canada issues "dear doctor" letter about biologic response modifiers

Health Canada is responsible for ensuring that medications approved for use in Canada are safe and effective for Canadians who need to take them. It is their responsibility to receive reports about medication side effects from the public, medical community, and the manufacturers who make medications. They inform the medical community and the public about side effects through "dear doctor" letters.

On January 13, 2006, Health Canada issued a "Dear Health Care Professional" letter about biologic response modifiers. Since they became available in Canada, four cases of a reactivation of hepatitis B have been reported in people taking a biologic response modifier. This is a rare but serious side effect, and is the reason the letter was issued.

Biologic response modifiers currently available in Canada include adalimumab (HUMIRA®), etanercept (ENBREL®), and infliximab (REMICADE®).

To read the full Health Canada advisory, please click here.

Exciting news about psoriatic arthritis medication reimbursement coverage in Saskatchewan

On January 1, 2006, the Ministry of Health in Saskatchewan gave the biologic response modifier, etanercept (Enbrel®), Exception Drug Status (or "EDS") on its provincial drug reimbursement plan for the treatment of psoriatic arthritis. This means that people who do not respond adequately, or are intolerant, to methotrexate and leflunomide (Arava®) can receive government reimbursement for the cost of their medication when prescribed by their rheumatologist or dermatologist.

Biologic response modifiers are a class of medication that has shown through several randomized controlled trials (recognized as the most rigorous type of research method into medications) to be safe and effective at treating the signs and symptoms of psoriatic arthritis. In some people, the results have been dramatically beneficial.

At present, provincial drug formularies (a "formulary" is the list of drugs for which the Ministry of Health will provide reimbursement coverage) in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are providing "special authority" reimbursement coverage for biologic response modifiers for people with psoriatic arthritis. In Ontario, reimbursement coverage is being assessed on a case-by-case basis. British Columbia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the federal government's drug formulary (Non-Insured Health Benefits plan) are presently not providing reimbursement coverage for biologic response modifiers - they are under review or no information about their status is being made available to Canadians in those jurisdictions.

Biologic response modifiers are also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Reimbursement for biologic response modifiers varies by province. There is an excellent web site called that provides the links to all provincial/federal drug formularies across Canada, as well as provides information on private insurers and what medications they reimburse.

Get to know your newly elected or re-elected government representative

On January 24, 2006, Canadians elected a new minority government. Four million Canadians live with some form of arthritis today, and it is important to inform our elected officials about issues related to arthritis.

Please take a moment to get to know your Member of Parliament ("MP") by sending them an email. In a paragraph or two, tell them about your arthritis experience and the types of treatment or care that you need to live the highest quality of life possible.

In the coming months, the Alliance for the Canadian Arthritis Program will be launching the Standards for Arthritis Prevention and Care, and your correspondence with the new government prior to that will be critical to making them aware about the breadth and depth of the arthritis community.

If you like, "cc" your email to, and we will gladly follow up with your MP with additional information.

Thank you for your time, and we hope you have improved or continued good health in 2006.