Managing Director, Accord UK
Thanks to generic drugs, the NHS saves enough each year to fund half a million nurses, but that’s just one of the many benefits that come when patents expire.
On average, it takes 10 years for a drug to come through the discovery stages and onto the market. But the journey doesn’t stop there.
When drugs come off patent, stringent procedures are in place to ensure the continuity of quality. However, with a patent expiry also comes the scope to adapt and modify treatments to further support patients. Patient populations change over time, and generic drug companies play an important role in making the incremental adaptations required to ensure maximum benefit for the patients.
“It’s not always a direct replica of what’s been on the market, value added generic medicines can be something that’s better either for healthcare professionals or for patients,” explains Peter Kelly, Managing Director of Accord UK – the largest supplier of generic drugs in the UK.
Three quarters of all drugs used in hospitals in the UK are generic and the UK actually writes more prescriptions for generic drugs than any country in Europe. They underpin pretty much everything the NHS does and enable a greater number of individuals to access gold standard options.
“If you look at statins, the ones that came off patent first are now not always the physician preferred treatments in their category” explains Kelly. “We often focus so much on price that we forget that it’s not just about that – it’s a combination of value and getting access to high-quality treatments.”
Access has been in the forefront of people’s minds throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Concerns over drug shortages loomed large amid global travel bans and disruption in supply chains. This was a concern shared by the drug companies themselves.
We want to build on that shifting perception to make sure more complex generics and biosimilars get a seat at the table, so there’s also some incentives for incremental innovation.
“Very early in the pandemic we built a forecasting model based on what we thought would happen to the demand, particularly intensive care medicines,” says Kelly. “We worked hard to fulfil the extra demand from hospitals and community pharmacies to ensure there were fewer potential points of failure in the supply chain.”
In an effort to increase production and ensure continued access, there was increased collaboration between the generic drug developers, the UK regulator MHRA and the NHS. While swift action served to ensure medicine cabinets were well stocked, the pandemic has highlighted a vulnerability which Kelly hopes will be addressed.
Value not price
Our obsession with cost has left a potential blind spot when it comes to manufacturing and distribution. If we’re going to learn lessons from COVID-19, then we need to recognise that value doesn’t mean taking the cheapest option.
Within the healthcare system there’s a concept known as an ‘most economically advantageous tender.’ This essentially means looking at the overall value of a product, including supply chain resilience, and not just price. It’s something Kelly believes should be standard.
Alongside this, Kelly reports that the government is also investigating how buffer stocks of emergency medicines and reserves of active pharmaceutical ingredients can be built up to ensure medication doesn’t run out.
Shifting perceptions around generic medicine
It is still very uncertain what 2021 will look like, but Kelly is hopeful that the spirit of innovation which has been prevalent through the pandemic will become the ‘new norm’.
“This year has created a real shift in terms of the perception and the understanding of the value of generics in the UK,” he says “We want to build on that shifting perception to make sure more complex generics and biosimilars get a seat at the table, so there’s also some incentives for incremental innovation.”
It’s essential that collaboration between industry, government and regulators continues to allow generic drugs to be developed at speed to ensure maximum benefit for patients and healthcare workers alike.