The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has voiced concern at the drive to use more generic drugs in the National Health Service after one health authority said that using an out-of-patent statin could save £24 million ($46m) a year in its patch.

The East of England Strategic Health Authority, which oversaw a deficit of more than £200 million last year, is aiming for 80% of all statin prescriptions in its area to be for simvastatin – now available as a generic drug. The authority’s director of commissioning, Dr Paul Watson, said the move would save £23.8m a year. He said it was around one-sixth the cost of branded statins “and its effectiveness at reducing cholesterol has been proven.”

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence has recommended the prescription of statins to a wide range of patients at risk of cardiovascular disease.

The SHA’s move is in line with the Department of Health’s efficiency programme and it was swiftly endorsed by Professor Roger Boyle, the national director for heart disease and stroke.

Dr Watson said: “We must ensure we use NHS funds carefully and concentrate our spending where it can do the most good.”

But an ABPI spokesman warned the Whitehall-led drive to increase the use of generics could hit future R&D investment in the British pharma industry.

“We were concerned that there was no consultation on this policy as part of the NHS networks and we are now in on-going discussions with the department about our concerns,” the spokesman said.

Among the issues raised in those discussions, he said, is the powerful disincentive to R&D investment if the NHS adopts a “first-in-class” policy – i.e adopting the first drug in a class to fall out of patent.