The financial pressures faced by HIV clinics in the NHS was a major theme of the recent British HIV Association conference. Doctors discussed how they can keep costs down without compromising the quality of care. One of the most important ways they can do so is to switch some patients from branded, expensive drugs to generic, lower-cost alternatives. Many HIV drugs which only used to be available as branded, patented drugs are now available as generic medicines.

After a drug’s patent expires, other companies can produce their own version of the same drug, called generic drugs. They contain the same active ingredient as the branded products and have the same safety and quality requirements as the original product. They are much cheaper. About 60-85% of the drugs used by the NHS are in fact generic drugs.

  • Generic drugs are just as carefully made as the originals. They are the same high quality with the same active ingredients.
  • Generic drugs are just as effective as the original versions.
  • Generic drugs might be a different shape and/or colour to the original drug. The packaging, manufacturer and brand name are different but the active ingredients are the same.

Your doctor and pharmacist should always discuss any changes in drug regimen with you, and explain any differences in the number of pills and their appearance when you are changing to a generic drug. 

Generic drugs might mean that individual drugs are used rather than a combined pill. Depending on their cost, combination pills like Atripla, Eviplera, Kivexa, Odefsey, Triumeq and Truvada might be used less often. This would only increase the daily pill count by one or two pills, depending on the combination. Although this might be slightly less convenient, because it means taking 2 or 3 pills once a day instead of 1 pill once a day, the savings made should enable other important HIV services to continue.

For more information on generic medicines, read NAM’s booklet ‘Taking your HIV treatment’.