Cheaper drugs for wet AMD becoming available on the NHS

Posted: Tuesday 19 July 2022
Scientist with drug vial

New drugs will soon be available to treat wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) across the UK, thanks to the production of biosimilars. 

Patients are starting to be offered the cheaper anti-VEGF drugs, as existing medicines are no longer subject to patent restrictions. 

What are biosimilars?

Developing medicines is an expensive business. So when new medicines come out they are patented. This prevents other companies copying them and allows for development costs to be earned back. But when patent protection runs out, any company can make copies.

Most medicines are made by chemical processes, which means exact copies can be made. The resulting copies are called ‘generic’ medicines. There are generic versions of lots of chemical medicines, such as ibuprofen. On the other hand, biological medicines, such as the anti-VEGF drugs used to treat wet AMD, are much more complex as they are made using living cells. Because their manufacturing involves living processes, they are much harder to copy. Even within the original brand, there are slight differences between batches. 

A biosimilar is a medicine developed to be highly similar to an existing biological medicine. Biosimilars might vary slightly from the original brand of medicine, but they work in the same way and they are equally safe and effective. Biosimilars are already being used in the NHS for several conditions, including four versions of Humira® under the name adalimumab, which is used to treat a range of inflammatory conditions in the joints, skin, gut and eyes.

Why are they important? 

Copying a successful medicine is much quicker and cheaper than developing a new one, as the original has already been proven to work. As a result, biosimilars are usually less expensive, even though the quality is the same.

How are they tested and approved?

A biosimilar goes through extensive tests in the laboratory and in clinical trials to compare it with the original. It must be proven to match and to work as effectively on a disease that the original medicine is approved to treat.
Once testing is complete, the manufacturing company submits the results for approval. In the UK, this is done by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). 

What biosimilars will be available for AMD? 

Biosimilars of the current anti-VEGF drugs, Eylea and Lucentis, are undergoing approval to treat wet AMD. 

At the Macular Society, we are working with the NHS to ensure that appropriate resources on biosimilars are provided to staff and patients and will publish the resources when they become available. 

If you have any questions about your treatment, speak to your ophthalmologist or contact the Macular Society Advice and Information Service on 0300 3030 111.