When you go to the pharmacy and stock up on your favourite cold medication, or another type of over the counter medication, the pharmacist often asks if you want the generic option or not. You now may be asked the same question when it comes to some MS disease modifying therapies.
A generic medicine is defined by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) as “an additional brand of an existing medicine. It contains the same active ingredient (the chemical that makes the medicine work) as the existing medicine.” This means that they work the same way in the body and will have the same beneficial effects. The generic medication must demonstrate that it can meet the same standards of quality, safety and effectiveness as the original brand – this is known as bio-equivalence. For MS medications, if the generic medicine is listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), the cost to someone living with MS is also likely to be the same as the original brand name version.
A generic medication may be packaged or presented differently (i.e. tablets may be different colours or shapes). Some brands may also have different patient support programs or services (such as blood tests) associated with the medication that may not be available with the generic version of the medication.
So why now? Well, the answer to that question comes down to intellectual property laws. Basically, the inventor or developer of a medication has a period of time where no one can take their medication and copy it and sell it, but after an initial period has lapsed, other companies can produce and sell medications using the same active ingredient. Given that some of the disease modifying therapies for MS have been around for a number of years, their intellectual property is expiring, meaning that companies that produce generic medications can now replicate these medications.
Generic versions of MS medications are already available for some MS disease modifying therapies overseas and as of the 1 June 2019, intellectual property protection for teriflunomide (Aubagio) has expired, so it is expected generic versions of this medication will start arriving in Australia. This means you may be asked whether you would like the generic version when you visit the pharmacy – just as they do for some other medications. It is important to know whether you want the name brand or the generic version, and it is up to you. You will need to inform the pharmacist of your preference. It is important to make an informed decision, so please discuss your decision with your treating neurologist or MS nurse if you have any questions or concerns about switching between brands of medicine.
More information about generic medications for MS can be found here.