Do Branding Of Medicines Matter?

Written by Kimberly Pang on 20 April 2021

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 12 April 2021

The misconception with brands is that it is always better. This is not the case when we are talking about medicines.

Let’s use the popular example of a brand-name medicine, the painkiller called Panadol, generically known as paracetamol.

Panadol is a brand name created by a pharmaceutical company which owns the drug.  The company then takes out a patent to prevent other competitors from making the drug for a period of time to maximise its profits. When this patent expires, other companies can start selling the drug under its generic name at a lower cost.

The reason that the generic version of medicines is often cheaper is because other pharmaceutical companies which manufacture them can steer clear of additional expenses relating to development and marketing of the new drug.  It is a common fallacy that paying more for a product would mean that it works better. In reality, generic medicines contain the same active substance and is manufactured according to the same quality standards set out for the branded medicine. These unbranded medicines you see in the market have been through vigorous processes of regulation and are deemed safe for use for the public. The steep price difference paid for a brand medicine is normally for its packaging. When it comes down to how the drug works, it should have an identical effect, brand or no brand.

There can be a slight difference in the inactive ingredients (flavouring, binders, fillers etc.) in brand and generic medicines. There have been reports of people having adverse effects to these inactive ingredients in certain medications. This can happen to both brand and generic medicines, and does not deem one superior over the other.  An allergic reaction can happen in any aspect, with food, creams, jewelleries, and it can most definitely happen with medicines; choosing brand or generic has very little to play in that, unless you have an established allergy to a particular excipient.

There are circumstances in which continuity of a brand or generic is crucial as manufacturers have provided information that interchanging brands for certain medicines may affect how they work biologically. This is the case for some anti-epileptics, extended-release preparations and drugs with a narrow therapeutic index (where small dose changes can lead to therapeutic failures or overdose).  In any cases of doubt, always check with your doctor.

So, the next time you walk into a pharmacy and decide to pick up a brand medicine, take a look at the cheaper alternative (the generic) and compare the ingredients on the back of the box before you decide to make your purchase!

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