• NHS England completes largest medicines procurement 
  • Three contracts awarded to pharmaceutical companies
  • Company which took NHS England to court wins bid

Three pharmaceutical companies – including one which took NHS England to court over the design of a billion-pound tender – have been awarded contracts to supply drugs as part of a bid to eradicate hepatitis C by 2025.

Merck Sharp & Dohme, Gilead Sciences, and Abbvie will all provide hepatitis C drugs to patients after NHSE completed what it described as the single largest medicines procurement the NHS has ever done.

Hepatitis C is a cancer-causing infectious virus spread through blood. Around 160,000 people in England had the disease in 2015.

NHSE’s contract award comes three months after Abbvie’s legal challenge regarding elements of the procurement was thrown out by a High Court judge.

NHSE chief executive Simon Stevens said his organisation had carried out a “sophisticated and unashamedly rigorous negotiation” which meant “affordable deals” had been struck with the companies.

During the court case, Abbvie argued over two specific aspects of the tender rules, which it claimed amounted to breaching equal treatment of the bidders.

These aspects related to the costs of treating certain patient groups and the requirement to receive a fixed fee for the treatment of a set number of patients the supplier has committed to treat.

However, Mr Justice Choudhury decided the way the tender was structured on both these points was “justified” by NHSE.

At the time of the judgment, NHSE’s director of specialised commissioning John Stewart said the court case had been a “waste of NHS resources and taxpayers’ money”, which resulted in an “unavoidable delay in our efforts to tackle the threats of hepatitis C”.

The regulator today told HSJ it made no changes to its procurement despite the legal action being taken.

The three contracts awarded to the companies are of different size and value, with Gilead Sciences winning the biggest contract.

NHSE said it could not specify the amounts which will be paid to the companies due to commercial confidentiality.

In a statement issued today, Abbvie said it “welcomes” the contract award.

Joette Gdovin, head of UK market access at Abbvie UK, said the company “appreciates” that the “tender model will ensure availability of suitable treatments in England”.

The contracts are worth up to £1bn over five years.

NHSE’s target for eradicating hepatitis C is five years earlier than the World Health Organisation’s target.