VICTORIA -- British Columbia says it will save more than $96 million in its prescription drug program by expanding the use of so-called biosimilar drugs to treat diabetes, arthritis and Crohn's disease.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday biosimilar drugs are new versions of existing medications but cost anywhere from 25 per cent to 50 per cent less, and B.C. is the first jurisdiction in Canada to support their increased use.

In some European countries, he said, use of the drugs exceeds 90 per cent.

Bioengineered drugs are the single biggest expense for public drug plans and B.C. spent $125 million in 2018 on three of the drugs that treat chronic conditions, such as diabetes, psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease.

Dix said the diabetes management drug Jardiance will be added immediately to PharmaCare, benefiting up to 22,000 patients. The addition of the arthritis drug Taltz will improve treatment options for people with arthritis, he said, and about 2,700 Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis patients will be changing to a biosimilar medicine available in coming months.

There will be a six-month transition period to the new drugs and then PharmaCare will no longer provide coverage for the original drugs.

"What we're doing today is helping tens of thousands of people," said Dix.

"I think this is simply the right decision for taxpayers. Inflation of prescription drug costs, or PharmaCare costs, is growing in Canada. There are many new expensive drugs for rare diseases that provide hope for many Canadians, but we will require ... to take steps to make our Pharmacare programs more efficient."