Brand vs. Generic: What's the Difference?

Amanda Thomas

What's the difference between generic and brand name drugs?

It's a great question, and one of the questions that we receive the most frequently in the pharmacy. After all, one is often more expensive than the other, and in our minds, we logically associate a higher cost with a higher quality. On the other hand, generic products are regarded as cheaper, lower quality, less effective and overall inferior products. While this may be true in some industries, it is not the case in the pharmaceutical industry.

What is a brand medication?
A brand name medication is a drug that is developed by a large pharmaceutical company, such as Bayer or Pfizer. These companies put billions of dollars into research and development, in order to create a drug. They are then granted a patent, which means that for a predetermined period of time (usually 7 to 10 years), the company does not have to divulge the chemical components of the drug. This provides the pharmaceutical company a chance to recoup the billions of dollars that were spent during research and development.

What is a generic drug?
After a patent is over, brand companies must then make their chemical compounds accessible. Generic companies such as Apotex, Mylan and Teva are then free to copy the brand name reference drug to create a generic form of the drug. The generic form must contain the same active ingredient as the brand name and the same amount of the drug. Generic companies are then required to show to Health Canada that the two drugs are the same. They do this by carrying out and submitting rigorous tests which prove that the drugs are equivalents.

Are there any differences?
While the active ingredient and the amount of active ingredient must be the same in both the brand name and the generic drug, there may be some differences in the non-medicinal ingredients; namely, the fillers and dyes. However, studies must prove that any differences do not affect the efficacy or quality of the drug. In some occasions, a person may have a sensitivity to a non-medicinal ingredient in one version of the drug, in which case, they might only be able to take the alternative.

Why is the generic drug cheaper?
As mentioned above, brand companies put billions of dollars into the research and development of a new drug, whereas generic companies don't have that enormous up-front cost. This allows them to price their product lower than the brand. On the other hand, the generic drugs are less recognizable, and not marketed in the same way that brand name drugs are. 

Medically speaking, however, both the generic and the brand name drug are the same, with the same indications and side effects. About 45% of pharmacies dispense generic drugs, and in many cases, insurance plans will only cover the generic versions of drugs.

If you have further questions about brand name and generic drugs, leave a comment below! 

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