Patent cliff hits NHS drug spending

 NHS spending on drugs fell in 2011 due to patent expiry affecting a number of major products – and 2012 will see the trend accelerate.

The NHS in England spent £8.81bn on prescription drugs in primary care last year, compared to £8.83bn in 2010, according to the NHS Information Centre.

This fall, which reflects pressure on GPs to reduce their drug budgets, contrasts with the previous trend of drug spending increasing by 3–4% each year.

Therapy areas where the NHS pharmaceutical market was strongly affected by patent expiry in 2011 include cardiovascular care and CNS disorders – while diabetes care showed a new trend towards the selection of cheaper drug classes.

Cardiovascular drugs showed the steepest drop in sales: from £1.51bn in 2010 to £1.35bn in 2011. A major factor in this was the generic erosion of the anti-platelet drug Plavix from Sanofi and BMS, revenues from which fell from £46m to £12m.

By contrast, NHS spending on Pfizer’s statin Lipitor increased by £5m to a massive £310.8m – but that blockbuster will fall over the patent cliff in May, with wholesale shifting of GPs to generic versions expected.

The NHS spent £1.95bn on drugs for CNS disorders last year, but this therapy area is facing major generic erosion due to the recent patent expiry of AstraZeneca’s antipsychotic Seroquel and Pfizer and Eisai’s Alzheimer’s drug Aricept, which between them cost the NHS £170m in 2011.

In diabetes care, growing demand and the impact of new treatments is balanced by growing cost pressure forcing a retreat to older and cheaper drugs.

On the one hand, spending on Novo Nordisk’s new injectable GLP-1 drug Victoza increased from £9.6m to £21.9m last year, while AstraZeneca’s new oral medicine Januvia saw its revenue rise from £27m to £45m.

On the other hand, NHS spending on Novo Nordisk’s fast-acting insulin NovoRapid fell from £63.4m to £62.7m last year, due to pressure from the National Prescribing Centre to switch to the cheaper isophane insulin.

The UK pharmaceutical market thus faces both generic erosion and a new trend towards the choice of drug classes that reduce costs, but may not represent the standard of care.