A generic medicine is developed to be the same as a medicine that has already been authorised (the ‘reference’ medicine). It contains the same active substance as the originator medicine and it is used at the same dose to treat the same disease as the reference medicine. However, the name of the medicine, its appearance (such as colour or shape) and its packaging can be different from those of the reference medicine.
When a pharmaceutical company develops a new original medicine, it takes out a patent. The patent is a legal agreement that prevents other companies from making or selling the same medicine for a number of years. The new medicine usually has a unique name or brand. It can also be called a "proprietary", a "reference" or an "originator" medicine. When a patent’s time period comes to an end other pharmaceutical companies can make a similar version i.e. a generic of the original version.
Generic medicines can save money for patients and the health service. Generic medicines usually cost less than the original branded product.
Generic versions of a medicine may have different colours, flavours or combinations of non-active ingredients (for example colourings, starches, sugars) compared to the original product. A generic medicine may also be a different shape or size and come in a different box, packet or bottle. None of these differences affect the way the medicine works.