The NHS is set to save a record £300 million after negotiating deals with five manufacturers on low-cost versions of the health service’s most costly drug.

The savings potential has been unlocked by the introduction of ‘biosimilar’ versions of AbbVie’s anti-inflammatory blockbuster Humira (adalimumab).

The deal means that hospitals will pay around a quarter of what they spend on Humira - currently more than £400 million each year - to treat severe conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis.

More than 46,000 patients are being prescribed Humira, making it the NHS’ biggest spend on a single drug.

The anticipated saving, which NHS says is the biggest in NHS history from a single drug negotiation, would pay for 11,700 more community nurses or 19,800 more breast cancer treatments for patients.

“As part of the NHS’ Long Term Plan we are ensuring every penny of extra investment is wisely spent,” said Simon Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive.

“Harnessing the power of competition between drug companies, NHS England has now freed up hundreds of millions of pounds of savings to reinvest in patient care. By working with patients and frontline clinicians we’ve now successfully negotiated the biggest ever set of savings on what was the NHS’s most costly drug.

“This is another example of how the smarter approach to biosimilar medicines in the UK and Europe gives patients and taxpayers a much better deal than they get in the United States.”

Biosimilar versions of Humira are expected to be available to NHS patients in December.

NHS England says it has now accepted bids from four companies who manufacture biosimilar versions of the medicine – Amgen, Biogen, Mylan/Fujifilm Kyowa Kirin and Sandoz – as well as the manufacturer of the originator medicine, AbbVie.

In 2017 alone the European Medicines Agency approved 16 biosimilars for seven different originator products, while the NHS has already achieved savings of more than £210 million through the use of biosimilar medicines since their introduction.

NHS England recently issued guidance to Trusts and clinical commissioning groups telling them that nine out of 10 new patients should be started on the best value medicine within three months of a biosimilar launch.

According to the policy, at least 80% of existing patients should be switched to the best value biologic (which could be the originator or a biosimilar) within 12 months.