U.K. drug costs drop as blockbusters go off patent

On the heels of news that drug spending in the U.S. rose last year, in part because of new branded drugs, the U.K. reports a decline in its pharma costs, thanks to blockbuster medications that lost patent protection.

As InPharm reports, the U.K.'s National Health Service paid out £8.81 billion (about $13.9 billion) for prescription drugs in 2011. That's a small decline--only about one-tenth of 1%--from 2010's £8.83 billion, but this is the first time in many years that spending hasn't increased.

The U.K. numbers only measure spending on prescriptions from general practitioners. The numbers on U.S. meds covered specialty drugs, too, which are often more expensive, and cover therapeutic areas where big new products made their debuts.

The biggest change in the U.K. came in heart drugs, which cost the NHS £1.35 billion ($2.13 billion) in 2011, compared with £1.51 billion ($2.39 billion) in 2010. Spending on Sanofi ($SNY) and Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) clotbuster Plavix alone fell to £12 million ($19 million) from £46 million ($73 million), InPharm notes, as generic copies siphoned off sales.

With more blockbusters newly off patent, spending could well drop again this year. For example, the Eli Lilly ($LLY) antipsychotic Zyprexa cost NHS £120.7 million ($191 million) in 2011, but now faces generic competition. And Lipitor, whose U.K. protection runs out next month, cost NHS £310.8 million ($492 million) last year.

- read the InPharm piece