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Generic medicines

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 drug. 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 drugs, and the money saved can pay for other treatments and services.

The original patents for a number of anti-HIV drugs have now expired, and generic versions of them are being produced. You may find that you are prescribed a generic drug as part of your HIV treatment. It will 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. Because more than one company can manufacture generics drugs, 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.

Generic and branded versions of drugs may also be produced in different strengths (such as 100mg and 200mg). This may mean you have to take a different number of tablets to get the correct dose if you are given a new version.

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, confirm the dosing with your HIV pharmacy team.

Taking your HIV treatment

Published March 2014

Last reviewed March 2014

Next review March 2017

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this booklet.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.