The Pros and Cons of Generic and Branded Medicines

What is the difference between generic and branded medicines?

There’s a lot of confusion about generic and branded medicines and it’s probably helpful to start by defining exactly what we mean by generic and branded. 

Every medicine contains an active ingredient, or a combination of ingredients, that makes it effective against a particular problem. It doesn’t matter whether it's a common cold remedy that contains paracetamol and codeine, or erectile dysfunction tablets like Viagra that contain sildenafil.

When a drug company discovers a new active ingredient like sildenafil, it can patent the drug and has a legal right to market it exclusively for twenty years under any brand name it chooses - hence “branded medicine”. The company’s competitors have no right to copy or sell this medicine. This temporary monopoly gives the manufacturers a chance to earn back their investment costs and rewards them for the risks they took.

After twenty years, any company can replicate the active ingredients and use them in their own medicines. What they cannot do is copy the original brand name. Companies usually market their generic medicines under the name of the active ingredient e.g. Sildenafil.

What branded and generics medications are?

Branded Medication: A medicine marketed exclusively under an individual brand name. It is protected by a patent and cannot be copied by other companies.

Generic Medications: A legal copy of a branded medication whose original patent expired. It is usually named after the active ingredient in the medicine.

Viagra and Sildenafil history

In 1989 the American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. was developing new medicine to treat heart-related chest pain. They discovered that a trial drug had an interesting side effect; it allowed men to gain instant erections.

Pfizer saw the potential of the new wonder drug - active ingredient sildenafil - and invested heavily in research and development, and then clinical testing. The end result was that Viagra was approved by the FDA (the US authority for Food and Drug Administration) in 1998 and quickly prescribed to men around the world. In 2017, it became available as a generic medicine and is sold as Sildenafil by various companies.

Are generic as good as branded medications?

If you’re not already clued up about how the pharmaceutical industry works (like about 99% of average patients) you may have initial doubts about generic medicines. Fortunately, there’s no need to worry. Any licensed medication sold in the UK is extensively tested before it gets approval. Given that generic medicines are direct copies of branded medicines that have been on the market for a couple of decades, they are invariably safe. 

Some people may confuse generic medicines with fake medicines or expired medicines. If you’re buying from a reputable pharmacy (either on your high street or an online pharmacy) this won’t be an issue. Any generic medication that is licensed in the UK, is the real thing. If you have doubts about your supplier, check out their licensing on the government’s MHRA website and see what’s being said about them on Trustpilot. 

The rule of thumb is that generic meds are as good and as effective as branded meds. As long as you are taking the right medicine at the correct dosage, it shouldn’t matter what name is on the packet label. Some people have brand loyalty and personal preferences and like to stick with a particular branded medication. Other people don’t care and will buy whatever is on offer at the time.

Key Points:

  • Only buy prescription medicines from UK licensed pharmacies (including online pharmacies).
  • Generic medications sold in the UK are subject to exactly the same licensing and regulation as branded medications.
  • Generic medications may be cheaper because the manufacturer did not have to invest in the R&D process, testing or initial marketing. 
  • Fake medications are imitation or pirated medications that may contain some (or none) of the active ingredients used in their genuine counterparts. These are never sold in UK licensed pharmacies.

The table below shows the UK’s most popular branded ED meds and the PDE-5 inhibitors that they use as active ingredients.

Viagra Cialis Cialis Daily Levitra Spedra
Active ingredient Sildenafil Tadalafil Tadalafil Vardenafil Avanafil
Effective after 30 Min for 4 hours after 30 Min for 36 hours continuously, if taken daily after 30 Min for 6 hours after 15 Min for 6 hour
Dosages 25 mg, 50 mg, 100 mg 10 mg, 20 mg 2.5 mg, 5 mg 5 mg, 10 mg, 20 mg 50 mg, 100 mg, 200 mg
Description Reliable, well known and long proven ED medication Longest lasting ED pill for sex without time pressure Low dosage, continuous effect good for spontaneous action Highly tolerable, also for men over 50 Fastest acting ED pill, for those, who don’t always plan sex

What’s best for you?

If you’re suffering from erectile dysfunction, your first priority is to work with your doctor and find the type of medication that suits your sexual needs and individual health situation. You’ll then need to find the optimal dosage. This may require some experimentation or even a trial pack of different medications. Most men aren’t too concerned with brand names at this point. They want a medication that allows them to have a normal sex life and doesn’t cause unpleasant side effects. 

Once you’ve beaten ED and are happy with your meds, your choice of branded vs generic will come down to personal preference, your budget, how often you need to take the tablets, and what brands are readily available.