The Arthritis Society - AB/NWT

December 19, 2007 12:28 ET

Arthritis Patients Denied Access to New Treatment

CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - Dec. 19, 2007) - Alberta Health and Wellness has denied access to a major new treatment for Albertans suffering from Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), a serious form of arthritis. The treatment is a class of drugs known as "biologics" which has revolutionized the treatment of inflammatory arthritis.

"What the government is basically saying to arthritis patients is this - it doesn't matter how bad your disease is, you can't have this new treatment", says Dr. Walter Maksymowych, Consultant Rheumatologist at the University of Alberta. "It is simply outrageous."

Biologics are already approved by Health Canada, the FDA, and European regulatory agencies. As well, Canada's Common Drug Review recently reviewed Humira (adalimumab), one of three approved biologics for AS, and recommended that provincial governments publicly fund access to the medication.

"It is simply unacceptable that the Alberta government has chosen to ignore recommendations from both Health Canada and the Common Drug Review", says Beth Kidd, director, public affairs for The Arthritis Society. "They are also contravening medically accepted treatment guidelines for people with AS. In doing so, they have created a two-tier funding system in Alberta.

"Most private insurance plans will cover biologics for AS patients", she explains. "However, this decision now means that if you rely on public insurance as a senior, someone living on AISH or if you are self-employed, the Alberta government has just denied you funding for a treatment your specialist has deemed necessary. And, these are costly medications, ones that most Albertans could not afford to pay for without insurance coverage."

Newer drugs that are made up of genetically modified proteins, biologics work by blocking specific hormones involved in the inflammatory process. They have been shown to have the potential to slow or even halt the progression of AS in some people. Depending on the biologic prescribed, they are either given by injection at home or by intravenous infusion at a clinic.

Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic form of arthritis that causes inflammation of the spinal joints. It leads to pain and stiffness in the back. In severe cases, inflammation of the vertebrae can eventually cause them to fuse together. Currently, there is no cure for AS, but biologics are a treatment option that can help minimize pain and maintain mobility. Approximately 10,000 Albertans live with AS although reported incidence rates show that it can affect as many as 1 in 100 adults. Men develop AS three times more often as women, but women have a longer delay in diagnosis. People of any age can develop AS, but it usually appears between the ages of 15 and 40.

In Alberta, The Arthritis Society's mission is to improve the quality of life for people affected by arthritis, and to support proactive efforts directed toward prevention diagnosis, treatment, and a cure for arthritis.

Contact Information

  • The Arthritis Society - AB/NWT Division
    Cathy Alfonso
    Manager, Marketing & Communications
    (403) 228-2571
    (403) 229-4232 (FAX)
    The Arthritis Society - AB/NWT Division
    200, 1301 - 8 Street SW
    Calgary, AB T2R 1B7