By Ayodeji Oni
All over the world, patients seek cost-effective medicines. This means that they want drugs that are affordable and are still effective. This is valid, as it is standard practice to make treatment cost-effective. Generic brands are one way to meet this need, as they do not go through the discovery, development, research and clinical trial process of the branded drugs, and are therefore produced and sold at lower prices.
Branded drugs, on the other hand, are the innovators of the compound; they undergo laboratory tests, carry out research and development of the drug, and conduct clinical trials and market survey before being released into the market. This process is very expensive, as the estimated cost of producing a new drug is 802 million dollars. For the pharmaceutical companies involved to recoup their funds, they are given the patent rights that last for a certain period to make back the funds spent on the development of the new drug. This would translate into high cost of the drug to the final consumer.
When comparing generics with branded drugs, the most important factor to consider is the bioequivalence profile, which, simply put, is the rate and extent to which the active ingredient is available at the site of drug action when administered at the same dose. This also means that the rate at which these drugs are metabolised and distributed in the plasma, and eliminated in the blood, must be the same. Hence, the next time you want to purchase generics, do so from a registered pharmacy as this will ensure you get safer generics. Other similar characteristics branded drugs and generics should have include good quality packaging, same strength of active ingredients, same taste if in syrup form, and the same name of active ingredient.
Some people’s scepticism about using generic drugs is valid as there are some that fall short of the above primary and secondary characteristics. It is however the prerogative of a registered pharmacist to guide the patient on making the best choice.
It is a World Health Organisation pro public health initiative for drugs to be prescribed using generics only. This helps with simplification of language to reduce medication error and also help reduce any bias to dispense only one particular brand/generic that may be adulterated or be harmful to patients. A registered pharmacy only procures approved standards of generics, making it less likely to come across counterfeit medicines there.
However, drugs with narrow therapeutic index (e.g. antiepileptic medicines) usually should not be substituted, as a little deviation in bioequivalence could cause therapeutic failure. However, the same level of observed deviations could sometimes be seen between different batches of the same brands, too.
With the wide range of generics flooding the market, the monitoring of standards to maintain the similarities between them and their branded counterparts is questionable. Much more effort must be directed towards ensuring quality control of generic alternatives. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) is saddled with the responsibility of carrying out comprehensive tests to achieve this, thereby ensuring that the approval of these generic brands into the market is up to standard.
It is recommended that pharmacists, retailers and wholesalers ensure proper purchasing management and strict regulatory measures. Also, it is important that patients know the actual content of their drugs instead of only the brand names; this will enable the pharmacist give the best advice on their medications.
The need to creating avenues to enlighten the general public on the need to patronise only registered pharmacies cannot be over-emphasised, as they provide the most suitable range of branded and generic medicines to meet the needs of their communities.