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A large chunk of medicines are set to come off patent over the next few years, leaving the European market expectant of an influx of new biosimilar drugs. With this, healthcare systems across the continent, including the NHS, could see the opportunity to save millions of pounds by switching from expensive biological drugs to the much cheaper biosimilar versions.

These cost savings would come as an obvious benefit to the NHS, which is in the process of discovering new ways to both increase efficiencies and improve patient services during a period in which the organisation has witnessed many high-cost specialist drugs hitting the market. This is a stance Malcolm Qualie, Pharmacy Lead, specialised services at NHS England, agrees with, having told Pharmaphorum.com “incentives to switch to biosimilars could help reduce the pressure on NHS budgets”. Such incentives include providing financial enticements for frontline budget holders in an attempt to lower the overall spending of the NHS.

However the NHS won’t merely be able to swap a biological for a biosimilar. According to their latest guidance, pharmacists in England will be unable to make this swap (or even swap one biosimilar for another) without an agreement from the prescribing doctor, but doctors themselves should have the ability to do this, bringing with it a saving to the NHS.

Some have raised concerns as to whether these biosimilars will offer the same clinical benefits as the original reference drugs - but according to NICE guidelines, in order for a biosimilar to gain approval, the medicine must demonstrate it is as safe and effective as the biological.

The first set of medicines to come off patent will be anti-TNF drugs – inhibitors and receptor antagonists which are used in patients with cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.  Janssen/MSD’s Remicade already looks set to have competition from Hospira and Celltrion who have both produced a biosimilar which will come to market approximately 50% cheaper than the biological version.

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