Chief Executive, British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA)
Government healthcare policies need to invest in innovation, from drug-delivery devices to repurposing generic drugs, providing the NHS access to cost effective lifesaving medicines for the future.
Generic and biosimilar medicines sell at around 80-90% less than pharmaceutical patent-protected drugs. Generics reduce the NHS’s drugs bill from approximately £36 billion to £21 billion a year – we couldn’t afford a national health service without them. Significantly, the £15 billion annual saving covers the salary cost of over one in four NHS staff.
The impact of generic innovation
Generic manufacturers punch above their weight in manufacturing and engineering innovation. The generic industry’s innovation often includes novel drug-delivery devices to make treatments far more effective. For example, Ethypharm created the world’s first ‘take home’ opioid overdose kit and supplied it to Scotland’s drug deaths taskforce. According to the taskforce, the generic company’s innovation helped save approximately 1,400 lives in Scotland alone last year.
Additionally, drug repurposing research which was made possible by government investment found that a generic medicine, dexamethasone, was the first effective treatment for COVID-19 patients. COVID-19 has shown us that while vaccines has helped us out of the grips of the pandemic, it is generics that have got us through it. All patients in intensive care units in hospitals will have been treated using generics.
Generics reduce the NHS’s drugs bill from approximately £36 billion to £21 billion a year – we couldn’t afford a national health service without them.
Innovation does not have to be expensive
Dexamethasone has since helped save the lives of approximately 22,000 people in the UK and an estimated one million worldwide. Crucially, it was already widely available for the NHS and was not hugely costly to supply because it was off patent.
Drug repurposing is exciting because it brings new and affordable treatments for previously unmet patient needs and affordability is crucial for an NHS with finite resources. Elsewhere, the BGMA has supported pioneering work in repurposing the hormone replacement therapy medicine, anastrozole, to reduce the risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women. It could make a difference to the lives of over 4,000 women at high risk of this disease.
Government support is crucial
Using a low cost generic medicine to address these areas is highly cost effective for the NHS, compared to the expense of a patent protected product. Unfortunately, the Government’s recent Life Sciences Vision, which placed innovation at its heart, lacked specifics regarding the sector accounting for generic medicines which are four out of five NHS drugs.
Generic and biosimilar medicine manufacturers are awash with novel and innovative activity from agile manufacturing processes to the treatments themselves. Future healthcare policies regarding innovation need to recognise the contribution of generics to this sector – one of the nation’s most critical industries.