Home » Supporting the NHS » How to balance the supply and demand of critical medicines

Paul Burden

Chief Commercial Officer for Strategic Growth, Advanz Pharma

The NHS’ medication needs changed overnight when the pandemic hit earlier this year. With the end of 2020 bringing hope of new vaccines, we cannot overstate the impact that off-patent generic medicines have had in the fight against COVID-19 and the role they will play in the future.

Generic drugs, which contain the same chemical make-up as products that were once patent protected, have been the quiet workhorses of modern healthcare systems for years.

They provide the same quality and efficacy as the original medicine at a fraction of the price, but that isn’t their only benefit. Four out of five prescription medicines in the UK are generics which demonstrates the vital role they play in enabling the NHS to deliver cost-effective care to millions of people, every day. 

Generics are often seen as the poor cousin to innovative medicines. The reality is that generic medicines underpin the NHS. If these were not readily available, accessible and cost-effective, the NHS couldn’t afford to operate the way it does. So, for the health and wellbeing of the nation, they are essential.

The impact of generics on COVID-19

“This has been heightened during 2020, as the need for generic medicines has been instrumental in the fight against COVID-19, particularly in the area of intensive care,” says Paul Burden, Chief Commercial Officer for Strategic Growth at specialty pharmaceutical company Advanz Pharma.

Many generic medicines were used to treat symptoms of COVID-19 and care for critically ill patients in intensive care units (ICU). As the NHS mobilised to increase bed capacity, the generic industry mobilised to ensure each bed could be supplied with the critical medicines they need.

Paul Burden says: “Back in March, no one knew how this would work out, how long it would go on for, or how many people would be affected. We didn’t know how much of each product we could bring into the country, or what the supply chains were able to produce. It placed a lot of question marks around manufacturing and logistics.”

“Ensuring continuity of supply has always been our number one priority. We were aware more than ever that patient’s lives were dependent on our ability to do our jobs well. Working in partnership with the NHS and Dept of Health and Social Care, providing transparency on our stockholding and future manufacturing quantities, proved critical in ensuring that no patient went without the medicines they needed,” says Burden.

Four out of five prescription medicines in the UK are generics which demonstrates the vital role they play in enabling the NHS to deliver cost-effective care to millions of people, every day.

Securing supply and maintaining stability

As well as securing supply, ensuring manufacturing facilities were able to work effectively to sustain production became a priority – no easy task as many factories were affected by the same lockdowns and staff shortages as other sectors.

He adds, “Whilst the world faces unprecedented challenges today, we will most certainly overcome COVID-19 and come out the other side stronger with greater collaboration between all parts of the medicine supply chain, and greater appreciation and awareness of the value of all parts of the pharmaceutical industry, both innovator and generic. 

“It is critical that beyond COVID-19 the generic industry continues to deliver medicines into the NHS, in a way that balances robustness and predictability of supply with cost effectiveness. 

“The UK Generics industry delivers medicines to the NHS today at some of the lowest prices in Europe with on average generic selling prices being between 70–90% lower vs the originator.1

“Open, continuous dialogue between NHS procurement teams and suppliers is a key component to managing this complex challenge. Beyond this, we need to ensure the UK market remains an attractive market for pharmaceutical investment. We have to look at how we hold buffer stocks for the most critical medicines. As well as how we avoid the unpredictability of global supply chains, by incentivising local manufacture of certain product types.”

The UK generic pharmaceutical industry has been one of the most robust and cost-effective systems in the world, that is critical to the success of the NHS. It’s vital that industry, the NHS and government departments work together to ensure a sustainable and better future.


1 https://www.britishgenerics.co.uk/view-news/uk-generic-medicines-market-functioning-well-and-delivering-significant-savings-oxera.html

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