The entry of generic forms of Pfizer's blockbuster Lipitor (atorvastatin) onto the UK market could eventually save the National Health Service a whopping £350 million a year.

According to the Generic Manufacturers' Association, the loss of Lipitor's patent protection in the UK last month and availability of cheaper generic forms on the market "will mean prices dropping significantly in the next year".

The NHS shells out around £400 million a year on Lipitor but, by the end of the year, the price of the drug could be reduced by as much as 85%, which, if maintained, equates to a yearly saving of around £350 million, the Association said.

Israeli drugmaker Teva has this week launched its own generic form of atorvastatin in the UK, offering pills in 10mg, 20mg, 40mg and 80mg strengths to treat high cholesterol and prevent of cardiovascular disease.

Highlighting the vast difference in price, a spokesman for the firm told PharmaTimes UK News that its 28-pill pack of 80mg atorvastatin will cost the NHS just £2.26 compared to Lipitor's current tag of £28.21.

"[Generic atorvastatin] and other patent expiries provide pharmacy the opportunities for increasing margins and keeping costs down, and also mean we at Teva continue to do our bit in saving the NHS over £9 billion a year through the availability of generic medicines," said Kim Innes, Commercial Director at the firm.

Generic value

According to Warwick Smith, director-general of the BGMA, the loss of Pfizer's exclusivity for the cholesterol buster is not only "hugely significant" for the NHS but also demonstrates "the valuable role generic drugs play in patient care in the UK".

"The true value of generic medicines lies in making the drugs bill affordable for the NHS and driving innovation through competition to originator products after patent expiry," he said.

While patent protection is vital for drug companies to ensure a return on their investment, it is generic competition that sustains innovation, as it essentially encourages companies to develop new products.

And the savings the NHS makes when generic products enter the market allows it to spend money on new technologies and medicines, thus encouraging the pharmaceutical sector to invest in research and discovery, Smith notes.

While 67.4% of all medicines dished out by the health service are generics, they make up just 29.6% of the total cost, and without generics, the NHS drugs bill would be around twice its current level, he stressed.