The NHS is set to save a record £300 million after negotiating deals with five manufacturers on low-cost versions of the health service’s most costly drug.
The saving – the biggest in NHS history from a single drug negotiation – could pay for 11,700 more community nurses or 19,800 more breast cancer treatments for patients.
The deal has come about through the introduction of “biosimilar” versions of adalimumab, which is prescribed to more than 46,000 patients for hospital-treated, serious conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis.
Adalimumab is the single medicine on which hospitals spend the most, at a cost of more than £400 million a year.
The deal should mean hospitals instead pay around a quarter of the sum while NHS England said it means it is on course to deliver on its ambition to cut £300 million from the nation’s annual medicines bill by 2021 through greater use of best-value biological medicines a year early.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: “As part of the NHS’s long-term plan we are ensuring every penny of extra investment is wisely spent.
“Harnessing the power of competition between drug companies, NHS England has now freed up hundreds of millions of pounds of savings to reinvest in patient care.
“By working with patients and frontline clinicians we’ve now successfully negotiated the biggest-ever set of savings on what was the NHS’s most costly drug.
“This is another example of how the smarter approach to biosimilar medicines in the UK and Europe gives patients and taxpayers a much better deal than they get in the United States.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “As we put £20bn more taxpayers’ money into the NHS we’re determined to cut out waste and spend that money as well as possible.
“The widespread use of biosimilars presents a huge opportunity for the NHS to save hundreds of millions of pounds. I want to see much more of this within the NHS – making sure every penny of taxpayers money is used effectively and savings are reinvested into patient care and frontline services.”
Adalimumab was previously only available under the brand name Humira but its exclusive patent recently expired and the NHS has now accepted bids from four companies who manufacture biosimilar versions of the medicine.
These are Amgen, Biogen, Mylan/Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin and Sandoz, as well as the manufacturer of the originator medicine, AbbVie.
They are expected to be available to NHS patients from December.
NHS England has issued guidance to trusts and clinical commissioning groups (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 a year.
In 2016/17 the NHS spent £18.2 billion on medicines, an increase of more than a third since 2010/11.
In 2017/18, the health service saved more than £200 million by using best-value biologics.