The National Health Service in England and Wales saved an extra £1.3 billion last year as usage of generic drugs rose to more than 75%, expanding patient access to potentially life-saving medicines.

Generics are now saving the NHS almost £12.3 billion a year, according to the British Generic Manufacturers Association (BGMA), up from a saving of nearly £11 billion in 2012.

This increase was partially driven by several branded heavyweights losing their patent protection, including Pfizer's Lipitor (atorvastatin) which, in its hay day, used to be the world's number one selling drug. 

Market entry of cheaper copycat versions of this drug delivered the greatest drop in cost of any medicine over the last year, a £124.2 million decrease from £166.6 million in 2012 to £42.4 million in 2013.

The drug also saw the greatest increase in the number of items dispensed, from 12.8 million in 2012 to 18.3 million in 2013, which means that the influx of generic formulations gave more than 40% of additional patients access to atorvastatin whilst reducing the cost to the NHS by almost 70%, the BGMA notes.

"These NHS figures underline the importance of the generics industry in the UK which provides crucial financial savings for the NHS allowing investment into new medicines," said the Association's director general Warwick Smith. But, while focusing on the savings, "it is also important to recognise that this allows the NHS to make further investment into the next generation of medicines and encourages greater innovation and research," he stressed.

Patients not targets

Alison Clough, ABPI Executive Director - Commercial UK, told PharmaTimes World News online "it is vital that patients, not short-term financial targets, come first in the choice of prescription medicines".

"Savings related to the increased use of generic medicines should be reinvested into improving patients access to new and innovative medicines," she said, and noted that "the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS), where industry has underwritten growth in the branded medicines bill above agreed levels for the next five years, provides a significant opportunity to find the right level of usage of branded medicines, based on clinical factors rather than cost, to ensure optimal outcomes for patients".