Interview with Adrian van den Hoven:Generics significantly improve access to medicines and promote sustainability of healthcare systems

17th June 2015

There is a win:win in promoting the use of generics and biosimilars, with improved patient access going hand-in-hand with increased sustainability of healthcare systems. Their uptake is ensuring wider access to the best standard of care for patients across Europe, says Adrian van den Hoven, Director General of the European Generic and Biosimilar Medicines Association

With an ageing population, the increasing prevalence of long-term chronic conditions and the ripples of the financial crisis still reverberating, healthcare budgets have never been under so much pressure, nor has the ideal of universal access looked so precarious.

As a result, “Generic and biosimilar medicines are now more than ever one of the key pillars of sustainable healthcare, and one of the best guarantors of patient access,” says Adrian van den Hoven Director General of the European Generic and Biosimilar medicines Association (EGA).

With generic medicines already a mainstay of public health delivery in Europe, their biosimilar counterparts are poised to play an even more significant role, as many blockbuster originator biopharmaceuticals come off patent between now and 2020.

Currently, generics account for 55 percent of prescription drugs, a figure that is forecast to increase to 75 percent by 2020. “Since 2005, the entrance of generics has doubled access to high quality medicines for patients in Europe across seven therapy areas. Stimulating competition in pharmaceutical markets is one of the biggest drivers of increased access to healthcare in Europe,” Mr van den Hoven says.

Without generic medicines, Europe’s health systems would be facing an additional bill of €40 billion each year to provide current treatments. Generic medicines are of particular importance in promoting smarter spending in treating chronic diseases, the management of which swallows up 80 percent of total healthcare budgets.

High cost biopharmaceutical drugs, such as enzyme replacement therapies and monoclonal antibodies, are forecast to account for more than 50 percent of the medicines budget by 2018, underlining the potential that biosimilar medicines hold to promote better access.

Burgeoning biosimilars

After a slow start, access to biosimilars is starting to grow. For example, use of filgrastim to reduce the chance of infection in patients undergoing chemotherapy, has increased by 30 percent across Europe since biosimilar versions became available. “We expect to see similar improvements with other biosimilars,” Mr van den Hoven said.

This is not just about improved access to treatments. It is also an opportunity for patients to live healthier and more productive lives. For example, patients with rheumatoid arthritis who do not have access to biological medicines may not be able to continue working due to the crippling effect of the disease.

Competition drives innovation

Experience also shows that competition promotes innovation. The pharmaceutical industry has a rich pipeline of products in development, including treatments for rare diseases and targeted therapies for patients who do not respond well to existing treatments. To enable healthcare systems adopt these new and expensive treatments, it is important to be as efficient and cost-effective as possible, Mr van den Hoven says.

“Bringing new biosimilars to market is not about savings, it is about increasing access and ensuring that doctors have more treatment options for patients, and also earlier in the treatment cycle, when this is medically appropriate,” said Mr van den Hoven.

The crisis forced sizable cuts on health systems with a consequent increase in health inequality. This has caused significant disquiet, focussing the minds of stakeholders across the piece, who are keen to redress this inequity. There is a general agreement that this is an opportunity to adapt and re-think some aspects of the healthcare policy landscape.

In support of this, EGA member companies are working on proposals to facilitate the introduction of innovation that will also bring more sustainability to healthcare systems. “We are calling this innovation ‘value-added medicines” Mr van den Hoven says. This will be a huge opportunity to combine innovation and sustainability of healthcare.