Generic medicines

Key points

  • Different versions of the same anti-HIV drug may be produced by different manufacturers.
  • Generic medicines may have a different appearance and brand name, but contain the same active ingredient.
  • They work just as well as branded medications, but are less expensive.

Before a medicine can be widely used in the UK, it must be granted a licence. This licence indicates that checks have been carried out on the drug’s safety and efficacy, and the benefits of the drug are believed to outweigh the risks. In addition to a licence, a pharmaceutical company that is developing a new drug will have a patent that gives it exclusive rights to manufacture it for a period of time. Companies usually market their drug with a brand name, but the drug will also have a name for the ‘active’ ingredient. This is called the generic name.

After the patent expires, other companies can produce their own version of the same medication. These are called generic drugs. They contain the same active ingredient as the branded products, and they have the same detailed safety and quality requirements as the original product. However, they are usually cheaper because there are fewer research and development costs. 

Where possible, the NHS prescribes generic versions of drugs – they work just as well as branded medications, and the money saved can pay for other treatments and services.

The original patents for many anti-HIV medications have expired and generic versions of them are available. You may find that you are prescribed a generic drug as part of your HIV treatment. It may have a different appearance – it might be a different colour or shape, for example – the packaging will differ and it will have a different brand name or no brand name at all. 

Because more than one company can manufacture generic medications, sometimes your clinic might change which version it buys. As a result, the appearance of the drug may change occasionally, but the generic name (the name of the active ingredient) will stay the same. You should be warned about this but ask your HIV doctor or pharmacist if you have any queries.

Always check the name of the active ingredient, the strength of the tablet or capsule, and the instructions on the dispensing label, which will tell you how many pills to take and how often. If any of these details have changed, it is important to confirm the dosing with your HIV pharmacy team.

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