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Trend Watch : Prescription Drugs in 2023

Updated: May 25, 2023

The Telus Health annual conference provides great insight into trends taking place across Canada. Telus Health processes an extremely large number of prescription drug claims at the pharmacy level. Read on for their perspective on what drug categories are trending and what we can expect going forward.

Diabetes: Diabetes emerged as the second largest drug category by eligible amount in 2022. Drugs to treat diabetes will have the biggest impact on private plan this year. Although dozens of generic versions of the oldest drug therapies will become available, new higher-cost, second-line therapies continue to arrive.

Notable in this category is Ozempic, which, thanks to an extensive advertising campaign through traditional and social media streams, is being used off label by non-diabetics for weight loss. Widespread use of this medication is driving plan costs significantly. We're watching to see how the industry responds to this pressure.

A new version of Ozempic, with even better weight-loss outcomes – is expected to launch before the patent for Ozempic expires, which will void any respite provided by a generic version.

Migraine Medications: There are two medications used to treat migraines that we should be watching for: Qulipta and Ubrelvy.

Ubrelvy is part of a new class of migraine drugs that will treat those who are hardest hit with chronic or very frequent migraines. It is taken orally in contrast to previous similar drugs that required an injection. The cost of this medication should exceed $3,000.

Qulipta is for prevention of episodic migraines, and it stands apart from similar medications in that it is also taken in tablet form instead of being injected. The potential impact on plans could be quite high as the drug cost should be around $6,400 - $7,000 annually.

Biologic Drugs: Biosimilar options are slowly and steadily growing in number replacing their more costly biologic medications. Most carriers have already undertaken biosimilar switch programs, which can lead to significant savings for plans.

Cancer Medications: Private plans have previously not had to pay a great deal of attention to cancer therapies because these medications were administered in a hospital setting and covered by provincial plans. The rise of oral medications does open the door to coverage by private plans.

There are currently no high-impact oral cancer therapies in Canada’s short-term oncology pipeline. However, the 13 new drugs in the pipeline represent important strides in cancer therapy and add months to the lives of patients, many of whom are of working age.

ADHD: Generic options of Vyvanse to treat ADHD should generate considerable cost savings for private drug plans. Vyvanse is on the top-10 list of products covered by private drug plans based on eligible amount, and the generic equivalents should have a significant impact.

Medications play a huge role in reducing sick days and incidence of disability, so advancements in meaningful treatments or cures are welcomed.

As always, we continue to watch the drug utilization in plans and to work with clients to assess the best course of action to support employee wellbeing with an eye on plan sustainability.


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