Article provided by Bonitas Medical Fund
Even though generic drugs have been around for more than half a century, many patients remain suspicious about them, viewing them as inferior, which is certainly not the case. A generic drug is, in essence, a ‘carbon copy’ of the original brand but more reasonably priced, which is good news for consumers.
What is a generic drug?
A generic is an exact copy of brand-name drugs – they have the same dosage, intended use, effects, side effects, route of administration, risks, safety and strength as the original. ‘In other words,’ says Lee Callakoppen, Principal Officer of Bonitas Medical Fund, ‘their pharmacological effects are identical to their brand-name counterparts. In more scientific terms, they are defined as a bioequivalent of a branded medicine with respect to pharmacokinetic (the movement of the drug in the body) and pharmacodynamics (the effect and mechanism of the drug).’
But at a much cheaper price…
Why are generics cheaper than the original brand?
Callakoppen explains, ‘Pharmaceutical companies are researching and testing new active ingredients and medicines all the time. As they start working on a new molecule, they patent it to get exclusivity on its use. The patent is valid for about 20 years which means that only that company may research, create a new formulation (the ‘recipe’ and process for creating the actual medicine) and register the medicine. This takes years and is a huge financial burden on the company. After about 8 to 10 years on the market the patent usually expires and other drug companies can copy the same drug, without the initial clinical research costs.’
What guarantee is there that generics are true replicas?
In South Africa it’s the Medicines Control Council (MCC) that carries the responsibility of making sure that generic drugs are safe and effective. Generic manufacturers have to prove their medicine is bioequivalent to the innovator brand before a product is allowed into the South African market.
Competition has exploded among manufacturers of generic equivalents of brand names, driving the cost of generics down. Even brand name products, still protected by patents, are feeling the price squeeze. The increased uptake in generics is good news for consumers because the cost of generic medicines is, on average, between 30 and 80% less than the original product.
The Pharmacy Act of 1997 and the Medicines Control Amendment Act, among other things, have made it mandatory for dispensers of medicine, be they doctors or pharmacists, to offer the patient a generic substitute if one is available.
The MCC is a regulatory body as far as standards are concerned. You can check the packaging or insert for a registration number – three sets of numbers separated by slashes – to confirm that you are using a registered medication. Many alternative medicines have not been registered so the same rules do not apply.
Why do some patients complain the generic doesn’t work?
Bonitas believe that the most likely reason is that some people may have little faith in the generic – anticipating it won’t or may not. Greater understanding of what generics are will go a long towards patients taking generics and reducing costs.
However, in some cases even though the active ingredients are the same the ‘fillers’ may differ slightly. Although unlikely, this ‘may’ cause a slight difference in the outcome.
How to be sure?
Always speak to your pharmacist. They are informed enough to explain to you exactly what the generic is and advise you if there is any reason not to take a substitute.
‘Generics are a way of saving millions on healthcare costs in South Africa and more specifically making your medical aid benefits stretch further,’ says Callakoppen . ‘Ultimately these measures mean generous savings for consumers – whether you are on a medical aid or not. It’s also consistent with government’s overarching goal of health reform’.