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Generic HIV therapy

Changes to HIV drug prescribing in London

Your clinician may at some point suggest switching to generic HIV medication.

What are generic drugs?

When new drugs are developed they’re controlled and protected under a patent. Only the pharmaceutical company that developed the drug is allowed to produce it and supply it in a given region. In the UK a patent can last up to twenty years.

It’s now been twenty years since effective antiretroviral therapy became available in the UK, so a growing number of drugs are coming off patent.

This means that other pharmaceutical companies can make generic versions of these drugs.

Generic drugs are exactly the same substances as the original drugs and are of the same high quality but can be purchased for a much lower price, so the NHS benefits by spending less money on treatment.

The NHS uses generic drugs wherever it can to lower the cost of treating people for a variety of conditions.

Generic drugs are also popular in high street pharmacies and supermarkets: own brand paracetamol or ibuprofen are generic painkillers.

If you’re living with more than one long-term condition and are taking treatment prescribed by the NHS then there’s a good chance that some of your medication is generic.

Are generic drugs different?

Generic drugs will have a different name and packaging and the pills can have a slightly different shape or colour, but the active ingredient in the drug is the same.

Always check with your pharmacist if you have any concerns about taking generic drugs.

If you’ve been taking a once-a-day combination pill, switching to generic treatment might mean having to take multiple tablets.

Can you get side effects from generic drugs?

Branded drugs and generic drugs are essentially the same, so you shouldn’t experience any side effects from switching.

If you do feel differently after starting generic treatment and this does not subside quickly, contact your HIV clinician or pharmacist.

What should I expect during the switching process?

You might still have issues with generic treatment, for example:

  • you might struggle to swallow the new tablets, or
  • the amount of pills to take might be a burden.

If this is the case, you should have a conversation with your clinician. It’s crucial that any switch works for you and that it doesn’t affect your adherence.

Will I be forced to take generic drugs?

There’s no reason to be afraid of generic antiretroviral therapy. It works as well as branded treatment and will still suppress the virus in your body, allowing you to live well and not have to worry about passing on HIV once you’re undetectable.

All decisions about your treatment and care should be made in partnership with you and your HIV clinical team.

If your clinician or pharmacist intend to make any changes to your medication, they should discuss this with you and tell you exactly:

  1. what is changing,
  2. when you should start taking the new medication,
  3. what to do if you have any issues during the switch to generic drugs.

If you believe you’re being treated unfairly with any aspect of your HIV treatment or if changes to your treatment were made without your involvement, contact THT Direct on 0808 802 1221.

Is this all about the NHS cutting costs?

Generic drugs are as effective as the branded versions, but can cost considerably less. HIV clinicians and pharmacists are encouraged to prescribe generic drugs as it frees up NHS resources to pay for other treatments and care.

If you have any questions about your prescribed HIV treatment you should talk to your HIV clinic team.



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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 8/8/2017 by Kyle Christie

Date due for the next review: 8/8/2020

Content Author: Dr Michael Brady

Current Owner: Clinical services

More information:

Patient Information Leaflets: switching medications, (various), HIV Pharmacy Association, 2016

Generic medications, National AIDS Map, 2014

Generic HIV drugs and HIV care in the UK, ibase, September 2016

Generics – the facts, BHIVA conference, Dr Andrew Hill, April 2017