Most expensive NHS drug comes off patent

Biosimilar versions of adalimumab are expected to be available to NHS patients by the end of the year.

3D model of antibody

The most expensive drug used in NHS hospitals has come off patent, which could save it at least £150m per year by 2021.

Adalimumab (Humira; AbbVie) came off patent on 16 October 2018 and is used to treat conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Biosimilar versions of adalimumab are expected to be available to NHS patients from December 2018 and NHS England has claimed that using them could save the health service at least £150m per year by 2021, depending on the price agreed for the drugs.

More than 46,000 patients are prescribed the drug, which is currently available only under the brand name Humira, for serious hospital-treated conditions. Hospital trusts spend more than £400m on the drug annually and it is hoped that up to four adalimumab biosimilars could be available by the end of 2018.

In a statement, NHS England said the ongoing use of Humira may also continue “where clinically appropriate and where it is best value”.

Jatinder Harchowal, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Hospital Expert Advisory Group, described the availability of biosimilar versions of adalimumab as “good news for patients and the NHS”.

“Patients can therefore be confident they are still getting the best treatment, but it is very important that any change in treatment is made in consultation,” he said.

NHS England guidance on biosimilars published in September 2017 says its aim is that at least 90% of new patients will be prescribed the best-value biological medicine within 3 months of launch of a biosimilar medicine, and at least 80% of existing patients within 12 months.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, October 2018, Vol 301, No 7918;301(7918):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2018.20205612

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