NHS set to save £150 million by switching to new versions of most costly drug

Health chief Simon Stevens has today asked NHS hospitals to ensure they are ready to realise savings of up to £150 million a year to reinvest in frontline care after the patent on the NHS’s most costly drug ends this week.

Adalimumab is the single medicine on which hospitals spend the most, at a cost of more than £400 million a year.

More than 46,000 patients are prescribed the drug, which is only currently available under the brand name Humira®, for hospital treated, serious conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis.

However, doctors are now being asked to also consider equally effective, safe, ‘biosimilar’ versions of Adalimumab after the exclusive patent on the drug expires on Tuesday 16th October.

NHS England has 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 of a biosimilar launch. At least 80% of existing patients should be switched to the best value biologic (which could be the originator or a biosimilar) within 12 months.

Biosimilar versions of Adalimumab are expected to be available to NHS patients from December this year, and could help save at least £150 million per year by 2021 depending on the price agreed for the drugs. The ongoing use of Humira® may also continue where clinically appropriate and where it is best value.

NHS England’s chief executive 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.”

Last year the NHS spent £17.4bn on medicines, an increase of one third since 2010/11.

NHS England recently announced plans to accelerate and widen the uptake of biosimilars in a bid to save up to £300m a year by 2021. In 2017-18, the NHS saved over £200 million by using more biosimilar medicines.

Up to four adalimumab biosimilars could be available by the end of the year.

NHS Improvement’s director of hospital pharmacy Andrew Davies 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.”

Increasing choice of better value drugs is the latest example of ‘smart procurement’ by NHS England, aimed at making treatments and medicines available to more patients by driving down costs.

The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society, Psoriasis Association and Crohn’s & Colitis UK are supporting NHS England’s plans to widen the uptake of biosimilars.

In a joint statement, they said: “We welcome the increased availability of effective treatment options for patients and understand the importance of the wise and careful use of NHS resources. Our organisations have been working to provide patient information and support since 2014 and are familiar with the evidence to date which reinforces the fact that biosimilars are as safe and effective as the reference products. The introduction of biosimilars for adalimumab brings opportunities for both patients and the NHS.”

Notes to editors

The announcement on biosimilars by: