As the global prescription drug market continues to shrink, generic versions of existing brands are increasingly becoming available for a fraction of the price.
A new article in Scientific American reports that there are more generic versions available for about half the price of their US counterparts, but this is only true for generic versions that have not yet received FDA approval for use in the United States.
“These generic versions may have a slightly different chemical profile, but they’re the same as the brand name,” says John Caulkins, a senior policy analyst at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents the industry’s biggest drugmakers.
“They’re not going to cost you as much as the branded version.”
A quick look at the FDA website for the generic version of Amneal Pharmaceuticals’ generic Amniox, which was approved in April, shows the brand-name version to be $1,300.
In contrast, the generic Amneel, a generic version for treatment of pain, is $1.35 for the first three months, and $1 for each additional month.
There are no restrictions on the number of times a generic can be bought in a given pharmacy, so a patient can have multiple Amneals ordered at once.
For the first year after the generic approval, the drugstores that sold the generic versions were able to offer the drugstore version to patients for $1 less per month.
The price difference did not persist, however, as the generic manufacturers have ramped up production of the branded versions, with the average price per month now falling to $1 more than the brand version.
The price difference is not the only benefit to patients of generic versions.
In a survey of US doctors published in December by the American Journal of Medicine, most respondents said they expected to see an increase in prescriptions for generic painkillers.
Many also said that the generic painkiller Amniotic Liquid will have more people using the brand brand than the generic brand Amnostil.
Generic painkillers are not approved for all patients, and are generally not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use by people under the age of 65, or those with diabetes or a history of heart disease.
If the generic companies succeed in making generic versions more widely available, patients will be able to buy their own branded versions at lower prices, even though the branded ones have a lower FDA approval rating and have been known to be more expensive than the cheaper generic versions, according to Caulks.
“The cost difference between branded and generic drugs has been very high,” Caulkin says.
“The branded versions have been sold for decades.
The generic versions have never been as cheap.”