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 says biosimilar drugs are new versions of existing medications but cost anywhere from 25 per cent to 50 per cent less.

He says Canada has one of the lowest rates of use for the lower cost drugs, while the use of biosimilars in some European exceeds 90 per cent.

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

Dix says B.C. is the first jurisdiction in Canada to support the increased used of biosimilar drugs, which are safe and effective.

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