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Brand-name drugs no better than generics

Posted Dec 05 2008 2:39am

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - There is no evidence that brand-name drugs given to treat heart and other cardiovascular conditions work any better than their cheaper generic counterparts, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

The findings run counter to the perception by some doctors and patients that pricier brand-name drugs are clinically superior, said Dr.  Aaron Kesselheim of Brigham  and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, who led the study.

Kesselheim and colleagues combined the results of 30 studies done since 1984 comparing nine  sub-classes of cardiovascular drugs t o generic counterparts.

The brand-name drugs did not offer any advantage for patients' clinical outcomes in those studies, they wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Brand-name drugs for cardiovascular disease can be as much as a few dollars a pill, whereas generic drugs  might be as little as a few cents a pill,"  Kesselheim said.

"If a patient is prescribed a generic drug because that's what's appropriate for their condition, then they should feel confident taking that drug. And physicians themselves should also feel confident prescribing  generic drugs  where appropriate," Kesselheim said in a telephone interview.

He said rising costs of brand-name prescription drugs strain the budgets of patients as well as p ublic and private health insurers. Overall U.S. prescription drug sales hit $286.5 billion in 2007.


Pharmaceutical companies retain exclusive rights to drugs they develop for a certain number of years, after which others can sell  generic versions  that are chemically equivalent. The active ingredient is the same, but the color and shape may differ and they may have different inert binders and fillers.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration must approve a  generic version  of a drug before it can be sold.

Kesselheim said cardiovascular drugs to treat conditions of the heart and blood vessels are the most commonly prescribed category.

The study covered beta-blockers, diuretics, calcium-channel blockers, statins, antiplatelet agents, ACE inhibitors,  alpha-blockers, anti-arrhythmic agents  and warfarin.

The researchers said brand-name manufacturers have suggested  generic drugs may be less effective and less safe. They also found that many editorials in medical journals questioned whether generic drugs were as good.

Generic medications represent 66 percent of the total prescriptions in the United States, but less than 15 percent of the money spent on  prescription drugs, according to the Generic Pharmaceutical Association industry group.

Kathleen Jaeger, who heads the pharmaceutical group, said the research reconfirms that  FDA-approved generics provide  the same medicine with the same clinical effects at a substantial cost savings

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