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There’s an assumption that because a brand-name medicine is more expensive, it’s superior to the generic alternative – but is this really the case?
No, says Quinton Mtolo, a pharmacist at Life Flora Hospital. ‘Generics are not sub-standard. They must have the same dosage, strength, quality, route of administration (how the medication is taken), performance and indication (intended use) as the original brand-name medication. The only slight variation may be their appearance.’
First of their kind
Brand-name medicines are more expensive because they are originals, the first medication of their kind for their specific effect. This is why they are also called originator, innovator or proprietary medicines. Each new pharmaceutical drug can cost billions to develop. Dr. Konji Sebati, CEO at the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association South Africa, explains: ‘The development of new medicines is long, difficult, complex and expensive. A company can start with 10,000 compounds in pre-clinical trials at Phase 1 and end up with five promising compounds in Phase 2, and only one may pass the rigorous testing in Phase 3 to become an approved medicine. This process can take 10 to 15 years.’
Protected by patent
Originator medicines usually have a 20- to 25-year patent period. This means the company that developed the drug is the only company that is allowed to do so. Once the patent expires, other pharmaceutical companies can copy the formula to create generic alternatives. Without any research costs to worry about, these new drugs can be priced far more competitively.
Make your medicine work for you
Since brand medication is usually more expensive than generic medication, some people may stop taking their prescribed medication if they can’t afford it. If a brand medication is too pricey, ask your doctor or pharmacist for a more affordable alternative if possible. Rest assured that the generic is just as effective as the original.
Note: You can look up any medicine sold in South Africa on the Medicine Price Registry (MPR) to find the maximum price at which it may legally be sold, and search for a generic alternative. If no generic is available, this likely means the patent is still valid, or that a generic alternative exists but has not yet been registered for sale in the country.
For more advice related to medication, read these helpful articles:
The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a professional. E&OE.
- Adapted from Life Healthcare magazine. (Spring 2017). Everybody’s Talking About… Generics by Naudé, P. p.42. Adapted with permission.
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2021). Do Generic Drugs Compromise on Quality? [online] Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/do-generic-drugs-compromise-on-quality [Accessed 17 July 2021]