As patients, we are often faced with the choice between branded drugs or their generic counterparts. Some people do experience better effects from branded treatments, but what’s really going on in branded vs generic drugs.

What is the difference between branded drugs and generic drugs?

Branded and generic drugs must contain the same active ingredients, however many other factors can be different. The branding, packaging and cost are the most obvious differences, but the inactive ingredients can also vary between different manufacturers, which can have an effect upon the appearance and texture of a drug.

An example: Branded vs generic Viagra

Viagra is a well known drug. It is manufactured by Pfizer and is internationally recognised as a blue pill in a rounded-diamond shape. Generic Viagra is called ‘sildenafil’. Sildenafil citrate is the active ingredient in both Viagra and sildenafil. However, as you can see from the lists below, the inactive ingredients can be quite different:

  • Viagra (Pfizer): microcrystalline cellulose, anhydrous dibasic calcium phosphate, croscarmellose sodium, magnesium stearate, hypromellose, titanium dioxide, lactose, triacetin, and FD & C Blue #2 aluminum lake.
  • Sildenafil (Teva): microcrystalline cellulose, calcium hydrogen phosphate anhydrous, croscarmellose sodium, magnesium stearate, poly(vinyl alcohol), titanium dioxide, macrogol 3350, talc.

These different ingredients, influence the colour and texture of the different pills. Viagra is well known as a ‘little blue pill’, whereas Teva’s sildenafil is white.

branded vs generic drugs

On top of the appearance of the pill, is the branding and packaging. Viagra is so well known, because it has a really strong brand image. Perhaps more than any other branded drug, Viagra has an international reputation as an erectile dysfunction treatment.

branded vs generic drugs

The reputation of Viagra, means that they can charge a higher price. Sildenafil can cost around £7.50 for 4 tablets, whereas Viagra, is approx. £24. But why do people pay the higher price?

Are branded drugs better than generic drugs?

Some people are happy to pay a premium for branded drugs. There are several reasons why people seem do this:

  1. They trust branded products more
  2. They believe that branded drugs are better quality and have fewer side effects
  3. They prefer to take a familiar medication
  4. They don’t want to change to a drug that looks and feels completely different, when it is supposed to have the same effects
  5. The prefer the inactive ingredients in the generic version i.e. the ingredients may be more suitable for vegans or people who are lactose-intolerant, for example
  6. Branded drugs work better for them

This final point, is completely attributable to the placebo effect. Studies have shown that some people experience greater effects from a drug that they believe is branded, rather than generic. Furthermore, research found that drugs that cost more tend to produce stronger placebo effects and the branding and packaging also has an influence.

The placebo effect of price

A study from 2015, found that drugs that were perceived to be more expensive produced stronger effects on patients with Parkinson’s disease and this has also been demonstrated in other conditions.

Placebo effect of branding

Surveys of patients have shown that they often expect branded drugs to have stronger effects and fewer side effects. These beliefs can influence the effects that people report after taking the drug.

Branded vs generic drugs – is it worth it?

Considering that branded drugs can be more than twice the price of generics, but they’re not twice as effective, it probably isn’t worth paying a premium for a branded product. But, if you do respond well to the placebo effect, you could consider giving branded products a try, to see if they work any better for you.

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