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Thousands of patients to be switched to ‘biosimilar drugs’ to save NHS £150m

Thousands of patients prescribed to the most expensive drugs available in hospitals are to be switched to biosimilars in a move that will potentially save the NHS £150m a year.

Adalimumab is the single medicine that hospitals spend the most on, costing more than £400m a year, and now biosimilar versions of adalimumab are expected to be available to NHS patients from December.

More than 46,000 patients are prescribed to the drug, and switching some of these to copycat versions of the drug is expected to save the NHS £150m a year by 2021.

NHS England has now issued guidance to trusts and CCGs telling them that nine out of 10 new patients should be started on the best value medicine within three months. They are encouraging doctors to consider the equally effective, safe biosimilar version of the adalimumab, as the exclusive patent on the drug expires on Tuesday.

CEO Simon Stevens said: “Biosimilar versions of widely used, expensive drugs are already delivering safe, effective treatment for patients across the NHS, including those with cancer.

“Adalimumab is the NHS’s biggest spend on a single drug and, as the NHS develops the long-term plan, we want more clinicians to switch to use the best value biologics which will free up hundreds of millions of pounds to reinvest back into patient care.”

The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, Crohn’s and Colitis UK, Psoriasis Association and the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society together welcomed the news. In a joint statement, they said: “We welcome increased availability of effective treatment options for patients and understand the importance of the wise and careful use of NHS resources.

“The introduction of biosimilars for adalimumab brings opportunities for both patients and the NHS.  However, it is vital that patients are fully informed about all the treatment options available to them and commissioners and health professionals adopt the principles of shared decision-making.”

In 2017-18, the NHS saved more than £200m by using biosimilar medicines, and spent £17.4m in total on medicines.

NHS Improvement’s director of hospital pharmacy, Andrew Davies, who recently wrote for NHE, said: “We’ve had some excellent uptake of existing biosimilars so far which means more patients get access to high-quality, effective medicines and the NHS can reinvest savings into frontline care.

“The launch of biosimilar adalimumab will be the fifth major class of biosimilar launched for wider NHS use, and preparations have been put in place to make sure that more patients are able to receive this treatment as quickly as possible.”

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Image credit - rajurahman85


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