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Grasping the opportunity


By Tim de Gavre, Chair of the British Biosimilars Association
The British Biosimilars Association (BBA) recently staged its inaugural stakeholder forum which examined how to maximise the opportunities afforded by these important medicines.  Biosimilars are high value lower cost versions of important biological medicines which have revolutionised modern medicine but come at significant cost.  A recent article in the Times highlighted that the amount of money that the NHS spends on drugs has surged by nearly 30 per cent in five years, with four treatments (all biologics) now costing the health service more than a billion pounds.  The NHS drug bill rose by 8 per cent to £16.8 billion in the past year alone, up from £13 billion in 2011.  Biologics are the top six drugs by spend in the UK according to the Times piece.

Greater use of biosimilars could potentially benefit the NHS, healthcare providers and patients by increasing access, freeing up resources to improve patient care while at the same time reducing costs of these expensive biologics.  However, it’s not enough to sit back and hope that biosimilars will reduce this increasing expenditure on medicines. One of the key tenets of forming the BBA was to create an organisation that proactively sought opportunities to create greater understanding of biosimilars and crucially collaboration with all audiences. These were the key principles of our event last week which saw industry, regulators, NICE, patients groups, as well as clinicians from across the NHS, come together to discuss the challenges, opportunities and barriers to the use of biosimilar medicines.  Keith Ridge, The Chief Pharmaceutical Officer from NHS England, opened proceedings with the key note address and from there panel discussions took place on issues including good practice, access and procurement.

There were a number of themes which emerged from the day - some affirmed what we already knew or suspected others revealed key areas for further dialogue and discussion.
Education was a recurring topic, and it’s crucial that success stories as well as best practice – of which there were many examples shared during our event – are used to increase understanding and ultimately use of biosimilars. Experience is also important particularly from a therapeutic perspective. Some disease areas are already very experienced in the use of biosimilars and it’s important to create forums where clinicians, nurses and patients can share this knowledge with colleagues.
More specifically, the discussions looked at how to incentivise trusts and other healthcare providers to use biosimilars.  It is important that those who do the work to implement biosimilars are also able to benefit from the savings.  Elsewhere there were engaging discussions that whilst there is growing evidence that switch from the originator to the biosimilar is safe and effective, any switch programme needs to be done in the right way involving both patients and providers.
Overall, it was great to see experts, practitioners and pioneers from across the healthcare spectrum come together in such an open and collaborative forum. Much was learned and shared, and it’s crucial we continue these discussions in order to increase uptake and drive the many benefits that biosimilars can deliver now and in the future.   We need to do our part to ensure that our NHS continues to be a sustainable system the delivers excellent care to patients.  

We are already planning the next event.

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