In Summary
  • Generics should not be mistaken for counterfeits, which are illegally manufactured copies that may or may not contain the same active ingredient(s) as branded drugs.

  • Generics are only cheaper because the manufacturers did not incur research and development expenses.

  • Also, multiple generic companies are often approved to market a single generic product, which creates competition and, typically, results in lower prices.

  • Continuous vigilance is, however, required to prevent infiltration of counterfeits into the generic drugs market.

Barely months after the uproar caused by a Kenyan insurance company’s directive that doctors only prescribe generic medicines, the generic-versus-branded drugs debate has once again been resurrected by events thousands of miles away.

PATENT PROTECTION

A few days ago, the CEO of American biotechnology firm Gilead Sciences, Inc. was hauled before the United States Congress over the exorbitant price of one of its flagship drugs, Truvada. A critical antiretroviral used mainly to prevent HIV infection for high-risk populations, such as call girls, Truvada was recently introduced in Kenya for use in the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) programme.

A monthly dose of Truvada costs $2,000 (Sh200,000) in the US but less than $10 (Sh1,000) in Australia and many other countries. Under pressure from firebrand freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mr Daniel O’Day proffered an explanation.

Apparently, Truvada enjoys patent protection in the US but not in other countries. It is, therefore, marketed as a branded medicine in the US and a as a generic drug elsewhere.

A branded drug is one developed by a pharmaceutical company through a research and development process. Because companies invest heavily in a new drug, they are given the sole right to manufacture and distribute it for a period of time. During that time, the company has a patent on the drug to enable it to recoup the development costs.

Generic drugs are ‘copies’ of the branded ones. They are produced when the patent of a brand medication expires or a government gives explicit permission for its production in the public interest.

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