Brand-name and generic drugs

Wale Alayoku, PharmD, CPh

Clinical Logistics Pharmacist

Orlando, FL

Q: What’s the difference between brand-name and generic drugs?


There are generic versions of many brand-name drugs. In most cases, generics cost less. This makes some patients wonder how generics are different. Many want to know if they work the same way as brand-name drugs. It can be helpful to know how generics are made and priced.

Producing generics
A company will make a brand-name drug using a patented formula for a number of years. Once the patent expires, other companies may make a generic version. This can only happen after thorough review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

FDA-approved generics must have the same active ingredient(s) as the brand-name versions. This means a generic drug has the same clinical benefits as a brand-name drug. A generic must be the same as the brand-name version in other ways:

  • •  Approved use
  • •  Dose and strength
  • •  Form (e.g., pill, shot, cream)
  • •  Labeling
  • •  Route of administration (e.g., oral, injection, topical)
  • •  Safety and effectiveness
  • •  Stability and quality

Some FDA-approved generics might use different inactive ingredients. They might not look like the brand-name versions. These differences are allowed, as long as they do not affect how the drugs work.

Lower costs
Generics can cost up to 85% less than brand-name drugs. This does not mean they are less effective. It just means they cost less to make.

Companies making new, brand-name drugs must complete several steps that incur up-front costs. They must test and prove a drug is safe. They have to show a drug is effective. Also, they need to market each new drug.

Once patented, a drug does not need the same tests and marketing. This means a company can make a generic version with fewer costs. Sometimes, more than one company makes the same generic. The competition can drive prices down for patients.

Switching to save
FDA-approved generics have the same risks and benefits as the brand-name versions. This means using a generic should not affect your treatment. In some cases, you might automatically get a generic if your prescription does not require the brand-name drug. In other cases, it is possible to switch if you ask. If you are concerned about the price of a drug, ask your doctor or pharmacist about other options. They might suggest a generic or another similar drug. These could help you stay on track with treatment at a lower cost.

About Wale

“When I was 17, I worked as a pharmacy technician at a retail pharmacy. I admired the respect and trust patients had for the pharmacists. I knew immediately I wanted to become one. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a healthcare resource for my patients. I love being part of the solution for complex medication issues — every day is a new experience.”