Generic versus brand medicines

Do you take generic medicines? Do you know how they compare to their branded counterparts and what are the differences? If not, then here are four things you should know. 

1. Research

Researching, developing and bringing a new medicine to the market takes time, effort and lots of money, well into the billions. For this reason, pharmaceutical companies are given a patent period of around 20 years – to include the time it takes to run clinical trials as well as time for exclusive marketing rights to recoup their research costs. 

Once the patent period is over, other companies – including even the pharmaceutical company that holds the original patent – can produce the medicine under a different brand name, which is often known as the ‘generic’. 

2. Price

Generic medicines are usually (but not always) less expensive than brand medicines. This is mostly because companies producing generic medicines do not have to invest in extensive research to evaluate the medicine’s efficacy and safety, as this has already been done by the pharmaceutical company bringing the brand new medicine into the market. 

Instead, a company making a generic medicine just needs to perform some relatively quick studies to make sure that its version is absorbed into the body in the same way as the branded medicine, and that the quality is similar. 

3. Ingredients

Generic medicines contain the same active ingredient in the same dose as the original brand. When it comes to prescription-only medicines, a branded medicine can only be switched for a generic medicine if studies show that the generic medicine is absorbed in the same amounts as the branded medicine. This is known as bioequivalence. However, the inactive ingredients – also called excipients – may differ. 

4. When is switching permitted?

A brand medicine may only be switched for a generic one if the:

  • medicines are bioequivalent and are listed as such on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • switch is safe for the person (see below)
  • prescriber allows it
  • patient or carer gives consent.


Should you switch?

While generic medicines can be cheaper, one of the main concerns about switching brands is patient confusion, as it can inadvertently result in double dosing, stopping medicines and reduced recognition of dispensing errors. This can lead to patient harm. That’s why it’s not safe to switch brands for certain individuals, conditions and/or medicines.

Read more about generic medicines and safe switching at NPS MedicineWise.

YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.
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