Report raises generic-drug concerns

Generic drugs

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: This afternoon the Food and Drug Administration approved what could be the first in a new class of AIDS drugs. Isentress is made by Merck, It's something called an integrase inhibitor, available at the moment only by its brand name.

Generics were also in the news today. A study by the Web site ConsumerLab.com has raised questions about a generic version of Wellbutrin, a popular anti-depressant. Marketplace's Jill Barshay reports makers of other generics are worried consumers might go back to brand names.


JILL BARSHAY: It's not clear whether this one study on a single generic drug is even accurate -- but it is raising doubts about generics.

Kathleen Jaeger is president of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association. She says she's confident that the generic Wellbutrin is fine. If it wasn't, she says, Wellbutrin's maker, GlaxoSmithKline, would already be screaming about it.

KATHLEEN JAEGER: Our industry is extremely competitive with the brand industry, and the brand industry does their own testing on all the generic products. And if there was an issue, it would have come to light and they would provide that information to the Food and Drug Administration.

Pharmaceutical professionals haven't come out in droves to demand the removal of the Wellbutrin generic from the shelves. But some, like Jesse Vivian of Wayne State University, want the FDA to raise the standards for some generics.

JESSE VIVIAN: The vast majority of these generic drugs are very very effective at nearly the same rates at the brand names. There's only a few drugs that people have to be careful of.

Vivian says insurance companies steer patients to generics to keep their costs down, even if customers wanted to switch to a brand name.

VIVIAN: Alright, well you have to pay the brand name co-pay, which may be double or triple or significantly higher than the generic ones.

Generics are much cheaper. But the industry is worried that customers might be spooked enough to pay up for the brand name drug. The industry is hoping this incident will blow over. Just to be safe, it's talking to Washington policymakers to prevent any new regulations.

In New York, I'm Jill Barshay for Marketplace.

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