What is Generic Medicine?

The generic name is the official medical name for the active ingredient of the medicine.

List of Generic Medicines stores in India: http://janaushadhi.gov.in/jastores.pdf

Medicines will often have more than one name:
  • a generic name, which is the active ingredient of the medicine
  • a brand name, which is the trade name the manufacturer gives to the medicine.

The generic name is the official medical name for the active ingredient of the medicine.

The brand name is chosen by the manufacturer, usually on the basis that it can be recognised, pronounced and remembered by health professionals and members of the public. An example would be Viagra - this is the well-known brand name given by Pfizer to the generic medicine sildenafil. (Brand names are capitalised; generic names are not.)

Once the licence has been granted by the MHRA, the pharmaceutical company can then market the generic medicine under a brand name. The company then has exclusive rights to market the medicine for the licensed uses for a certain period of time, usually about 10 to 12 years. This is known as a patent, and allows the drug company to recoup the costs of research and development of the new medicine, before other drug companies are allowed to produce it as well. Other drug companies are likely to be able to produce and sell the medicine at a cheaper rate, because the research and development has already been done.

For example, sildenafil (Viagra) is still under patent and so can currently only be marketed by Pfizer to treat impotence. Once the patent expires, we can expect to see other other pharmaceutical companies marketing potentially cheaper versions of the generic medicine sildenafil, either under different brand names, or simply as the generic sildenafil.

Ibuprofen on the other hand is a much older medicine and can already be bought under various different brand names, eg Nurofen (made by Reckitt Benckiser), Brufen (made by Abbott) and Anadin ultra (made by Wyeth Consumer Healthcare), to name but a few. All of these contain ibuprofen as the generic medicine. Ibuprofen can also be bought simply as ibuprofen tablets, made by various different manufacturers who market it without a brand name.

How does this affect me?

When a doctor is writing a prescription, or a consumer is buying an over-the-counter medicine, they may have a choice between a branded medicine and the generic version of that medicine. Generic medicines are sometimes cheaper than brand-name medicines, but the active ingredient (the ingredient that produces the therapeutic effect of the medicine) is the same in both.

Medicines also contain inactive ingredients, which are used to formulate the active ingredient into a tablet, liquid, cream or other preparation. These inactive ingredients are called excipients, and different manufacturers do not always use the same ones when formulating their product. This is why medicines containing the same active ingredient, but made by different manufacturers, may vary in appearance. The excipients used may create small differences between them, such as in colour, or the amount of time it takes for a tablet to dissolve in the gut and be absorbed into the bloodstream, but these differences are rarely significant, which is why generic and branded medicines are (with a few exceptions) interchangeable.

Over-the-counter medicines

When you buy medicines without a prescription to treat minor ailments you can usually be sure that generic or own-brand medicines will be cheaper than their branded equivalents. As long as both medicines contain exactly the same active ingredients at the same strength (always check the packaging), the generic or own-brand medicine will ultimately have exactly the same effect as the branded one and thus could save you money.
If you have any questions about buying branded or generic medicines over-the-counter you should ask your pharmacist for advice.


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