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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Drugs

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Generic Drugs: Questions and Answers

What are generic drugs?

A generic drug is identical -- or bioequivalent -- to a brand name drug in dosage form, safety, strength, route of administration, quality, performance characteristics and intended use. Although generic drugs are chemically identical to their branded counterparts, they are typically sold at substantial discounts from the branded price. According to the Congressional Budget Office, generic drugs save consumers an estimated $8 to $10 billion a year at retail pharmacies. Even more billions are saved when hospitals use generics.

Is there a generic equivalent for my brand-name drug?

To find out if there is a generic equivalent for your brand-name drug, use Drugs@FDA, a catalog of FDA-approved drug products, as well as drug labeling.

You can also search for generic equivalents by using the "Electronic Orange Book." Search by proprietary "brand" name," then search again by using the active ingredient name. If other manufacturers are listed besides the "brand name" manufacturer when searching by the "active ingredient," they are the generic product manufacturers.

Since there is a lag time after generic products are approved and they appear in the "Orange Book," you should also consult the most recent monthly approvals for "First Generics".

Are generic drugs as effective as brand-name drugs?

Yes. A generic drug is the same as a brand-name drug in dosage, safety, strength, quality, the way it works, the way it is taken and the way it should be used.

FDA requires generic drugs have the same high quality, strength, purity and stability as brand-name drugs.

Not every brand-name drug has a generic drug. When new drugs are first made they have drug patents. Most drug patents are protected for 20 years. The patent, which protects the company that made the drug first, doesn't allow anyone else to make and sell the drug. When the patent expires, other drug companies can start selling a generic version of the drug. But, first, they must test the drug and the FDA must approve it.

Creating a drug costs lots of money. Since generic drug makers do not develop a drug from scratch, the costs to bring the drug to market are less; therefore, generic drugs are usually less expensive than brand-name drugs. But, generic drug makers must show that their product performs in the same way as the brand-name drug.

How are generic drugs approved?

Drug companies must submit an abbreviated new drug application (ANDA) for approval to market a generic product. The Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act of 1984, more commonly known as the Hatch-Waxman Act, made ANDAs possible by creating a compromise in the drug industry. Generic drug companies gained greater access to the market for prescription drugs, and innovator companies gained restoration of patent life of their products lost during FDA's approval process.

New drugs, like other new products, are developed under patent protection. The patent protects the investment in the drug's development by giving the company the sole right to sell the drug while the patent is in effect. When patents or other periods of exclusivity expire, manufacturers can apply to the FDA to sell generic versions.

The ANDA process does not require the drug sponsor to repeat costly animal and clinical research on ingredients or dosage forms already approved for safety and effectiveness. This applies to drugs first marketed after 1962.

What standards do generic drugs have to meet?

Health professionals and consumers can be assured that FDA approved generic drugs have met the same rigid standards as the innovator drug. To gain FDA approval, a generic drug must:

  • contain the same active ingredients as the innovator drug(inactive ingredients may vary)
  • be identical in strength, dosage form, and route of administration
  • have the same use indications
  • be bioequivalent
  • meet the same batch requirements for identity, strength, purity, and quality
  • be manufactured under the same strict standards of FDA's good manufacturing practice regulations required for innovator products

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