UK lagging behind Europe in take-up of complex medicines. Cost-effective alternatives could improve access to life-saving drugs
The NHS is wasting millions of pounds a year by not using biosimilar medicines as much as its European counterparts, costing the NHS many hundreds of millions of pounds every year, according to the British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA).
Biopharmaceuticals are medicines derived from living organisms using biotechnology. They are an increasingly important type of medicine, offering new and effective treatment particularly for patients suffering with complex diseases or with conditions where there is currently unmet need.
As they are more complex than conventional medicines, biopharmaceuticals are considerably more expensive. However, cost-effective therapeutic equivalents called biosimilars are available for use once the patent expires on the original biopharmaceutical product.
To gain marketing approval biosimilar medicines have to demonstrate that they are as safe and as effective as the reference originator product. Yet uptake in the UK within the NHS is relatively low.
Their use in Europe is much more widespread with countries such as Greece, France, Germany, Austria, Spain and Sweden already further ahead than the UK in terms of adoption and savings.
The NHS faces the challenge of treating more patients at a time of public expenditure restraint. Because of their complexity, biosimilar medicines cannot offer the same percentage price reductions as traditional generic medicines where savings can be as high as 90% following the introduction of competition.
However, as the starting points of these complex medicines are very much higher, smaller percentage reductions in price represent very substantial savings for the NHS. This is also important as they are often used to treat long-term conditions, such as diabetes, anaemia of chronic kidney failure, cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Indeed, the cost saving due to competition from biosimilar medicines, and the resultant reduction in cost per QALY, is such that biosimilar medicines may be approved by Health Technology Appraisal agencies when the equivalent originator product was found not to be cost-effective. This would mean creating greater access to medicines previously deemed too expensive for approval.
Warwick Smith, Director General of the BGMA, which represents 90% of generic manufacturers in the UK, said: “Unlike traditional generics, biosimilars are prescribed by their brand name. Lack of knowledge and awareness about them means the UK is lagging behind the rest of Europe in terms of adoption rates.
“This has major implications for patient care and access to life-saving treatments. Not only are overall savings to the medicines bill not being realised at a time of huge pressure on healthcare budgets but importantly patients may be denied access to medicines.
“We estimate the NHS could achieve annual savings of many hundreds of millions of pounds if there was an increased uptake of biosimilars.
“Education is key to their increase and appropriate information and guidance needs to be made available to clinicians not only by the industry but also through HTAs and the new national commissioning board, NHS England. There is no reason why biosimilars should not be routinely prescribed, particularly for new patients, if available and appropriate.”
The BGMA has published a Biosimilars briefing paper which is available here.
Source: The British Generic Manufacturers Association