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Portugal’s NHS saves tens of millions by buying generic drugs

pillsdesignerPortugal’s national health service hospitals have saved millions in the first ten months of 2016 by buying three generic medicines* rather than their branded equivalents.

Data provided by the Drug Authority (Infarmed) showed that purchasing these three generic drugs, used in the treatment of cancer and HIV, allowed a cost saving of €25.5 million between January and October, compared to the same period last year.

Further savings of €2.2 million were made by buying a generic antibiotic widely used in hospitals.

The savings on cancer drug Imatinib and HIV drugs, Abacavir and Lamivudine, were announced by Infarmed president, Maria do Céu Machado at a meeting of the National Pharmacy Commission in mid-December.

The Commission offered another example that represented remarkable savings over previous years: Linezolid, a broad-spectrum antibiotic on which €832,000 was spent in 2017 compared to €5.2 million in 2015 and €3 million last year.

Infarmed also stated that, as with the other two treatments, the use of this medicine remained constant.

The generic market has enabled significant savings, some generics are 95% cheaper than branded equivalents.

Some examples where cost savings have been huge are the oncological drugs, Docetaxel, Paclitaxel, Capecitabine and Temozolamide, and the intravenous antibiotics Piperacillin and Tazobactam with price reductions of around 90%, and Imipenem and Meropenem with reductions of just over 80%.

In the case of Imatinib, a medicine for the treatment of hematological diseases, it used to cost €70 per pill and, in less than a year, the cost per pill was down to under €2.

The drug companies claim that there will be a commensurate reduction in research and development for new drugs if they do not make healthy profits from their product range.

Another fear is that companies will simply stop the production of certain drugs if they cannot make a profit. This already has become a problem in parts of Europe and the US.

Never-the-less, expenditure on drugs in Portugal’s hospitals exceeded €1 billion in 2016 and is expected to increase by more than 5% this year despite the impressive savings offered by purchasing generics.


*A generic drug is a pharmaceutical drug that is equivalent to a brand-name product in dosage, strength, route of administration, quality, performance and intended use, but does not carry the brand name. The generic drug may differ from the original in non-essential characteristics such as color, taste and packaging.

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