In the wake of a sharp decline in sales of its blockbuster arthritis drug, Remicade, Merck is to offer the NHS discounts and rebates amounting to £48 million on £191 million sales, announced medical affairs director Colin Wheeler last week.

The move comes after approval by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) of both Remicade and biosimilar versions of infliximab and the launch of a resource to aid clinicians wishing to switch patients from Remicade to a biosimilar. 

Biosimilar infliximab was approved for use in Europe earlier this year and drugs launched so far include Pfizer subsidiary Hospira’s Inflectra and Napp Pharmaceutical’ Remsima, manufactured by South Korean company Celltrion.

The discounts from Merck compare favourably with prices offered by Napp and Hospira, said Wheeler, adding that while biosimilar versions of Remicade currently have less than five percent market share in the UK and are mostly prescribed for newly diagnosed patients, the situation may change. 

The Norwegian government is funding a study to observe the effects of moving from Remicade to a biosimilar and is expected to publish results in the third quarter of 2016, announced Steinar Madsen, medical director at the Norwegian Medicines Agency recently.

Merck sells Remicade in Europe under a license from Johnson & Johnson, which sells the drug in the US, where the patent is due to end in September 2018.