LONDON: Pharmaceutical companies in the UK are planning to boost their already massive profits by bypassing the middlemen - wholesalers and retail pharmacies - and delivering more of their products direct to patients.

Firms such as Roche, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AstraZeneca and Sanofi-Aventis are already slashing the distribution chain in a trend said to be saving around £250 million ($501m; €367.4m) annually and growing at up to 15% each year.

Britain's free National Health Service has approved the move which allows it to cut its drugs bill. Medicines delivered direct to patients are exempt from sales tax and drugs administered at home by health professionals cut hospital in-patient costs.

Home delivery to suffers with long-term conditions like multiple sclerosis and cancer has been around in the UK and in the US for some years.

Pharmacists are, unsurprisingly, less than welcoming to the practice. But its expansion appears inevitable as pharma firms develop more 'biologic' drugs that need to be administered 'fresh' to patients.

Data sourced from The Times Online (UK); additional content by WARC staff