Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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The Truth About Generics


Pet Column for the week of July 20, 2009

Related information:

Related site - FDA Orange Book

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

Source - Dr. Levent Dirikolu
Making your way down the drug aisle it's often hard to find what you're looking for with hundreds of brightly-colored boxes distracting your focus. To complicate matters further, nearly every name brand medication has at least one or two generic forms packaged in a similar fashion. Staring at the price difference amongst the products, it begs the question, is that expensive name brand drug really the same as the cheaper generic?

"Yes," says Dr. Levent Dirikolu, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine who teaches a pharmacology course to veterinary students, "the pharmacologic affects of generics are exactly the same as the name brand drug." For the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve the generic form of a drug, the company producing it must prove their compound is basically a copy of the original.

Although your animal companion might not be strolling the drug store for cough medicine anytime soon, generic drugs affect veterinary patients just like they do their human counterparts. According to the Congressional Budget Office, generic medications save consumers $8-10 billion each year. Since the majority of animal owners don't have health insurance for their pet, saving money on medications is important.

Some speculate that the reason generics are cheaper is because the product is made from less superior ingredients. Dr. Dirikolu notes that, "the pricing of generics has nothing to do with quality." Instead, the lower cost to the consumer has to do with the fact that generic drug companies do not have to carry out expensive research trials for FDA approval.

For example, it would not be uncommon for a pharmaceutical company to spend close to a billion dollars to perform the necessary research ensuring the safety and efficacy of their product. In return for their expenditures, the FDA grants the company the right to produce and market their drug exclusively, usually for around 11 years, in order to recoup their losses. However, once the patent runs out, it is permissible to produce the drug in a generic form.

Although Dr. Dirikolu notes that, "generics are as safe and effective as the brand name drug," there are a few differences between the two. For one, a generic cannot look exactly the same as the brand name drug. The two must look distinctly different, therefore the color or shape will be changed. In addition, though the active ingredient remains in the same dosage, the chemicals used to hold the drug together (inactive ingredients) may be different.

Because very few veterinary drugs ever make it to generic form when compared to human pharmaceuticals, a new trade organization called the Generic Animal Drug Alliance (GADA) is working to aid pet owners save money by helping generic animal drug companies navigate through federal regulations and congress. According to statistics on their website, 77 percent of dogs and 53 percent of cats received medication in 2007.

If you have questions about whether your pet can switch to a generic medication, please contact your local veterinarian. To search for generic equivalents of a name brand drug, you can visit the FDA's Orange Book, which lists approved equivalents.