When a pharmaceutical company develops a new active ingredient, it is granted a patent. This means that for a period of time no other company can manufacture and sell a medicine containing the same active ingredient.
This first medicine to come onto the market is sometimes called the originator brand.
Once a patent expires, other companies can develop their own versions of the medicine. These are known as generic medicines. Their active ingredient is the same as the originator brand, but the newer medicines are marketed under different brand names.
Due to trademark regulations, the packaging of generic medicines and sometimes the actual medicine itself (the pill, tablet, capsule etc) are made to look different from the originator brand.
What difference will using a generic medicine make?
All medicines sold in Australia must be approved by the government through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). The TGA requires generic medicines to meet the same strict standards of quality, safety and effectiveness as the original brand. A generic medicine must also have evidence to show it will work in the body in the same way as the original brand medicine. This is called being bioequivalent.
So for most medicines, the benefits and side effects will be the same for the original and generic versions of that active ingredient.
For consumers, the main difference between generic and brand medicines is likely to be how much they have to pay for the medicine. Generics are less expensive to make, and that means they tend to be less expensive to buy.
Unless your health professional has prescribed a specific brand of medicine for you, it’s your choice whether you use a generic medicine or the original brand.
Be medicinewise about your choices by discussing your options with your prescriber or pharmacist.