Brand-Name and Generic Medications

Brand-Name and Generic Medications

Fact or Myth:

"Generic medications are just like store-brand products at the supermarket"

That’s a myth!

Unlike store-brand products at the supermarket, generic medications undergo rigorous testing and are subject to regulation ensuring their safety and efficacy compared to the brand-name option. 

To learn more about choosing between brand-name and generic medications, read on!

What are Brand-Name Medications?

Brand-name medications, also called “innovator drugs” or “reference drugs,” are the first version of a medicine to be sold to patients. 

Brand-name medications are sold by the company that originally researched and developed the drug. Specifically, this innovator manufacturer is the first to produce the unique chemical molecule that causes the desired effect in the body. An example of a brand-name medication is Aspirin, which refers to the drug chemical acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), first produced by the drug company Bayer. 

When new medications are approved by the government, they each receive a patent. This patent prevents other companies from making the same medicine for a number of years, which allows the innovator company to recover the costs associated with developing the drug—which is a very expensive process; the cost of bringing a single new drug to market can reach billions of dollars.

What are Generic Medications?

Generic medications are legal copies of brand-name medications.

When a brand-name drug’s patent nears its expiration date, any drug manufacturer can apply to sell a generic version of the same drug. Since these generic drug manufacturers did not have to pay for the expensive drug development costs, they can sell the medication for a lower price. Competition between the brand-name and generic drugs, and among generic medications, helps keep their prices low.

What's the Difference?

Compared to brand-name medications, generic versions may have:

What's the Same?

Brand-name and generic medications both:

Quality and Safety

Every medication, both brand-name and generic, is reviewed and approved by Health Canada before it can be sold in the country. Health Canada ensures that generics maintain the same quality, safety, and clinical effectiveness as the brand-name versions.

Generic versions of medications must be designed to work the same way in the body as the brand-name alternatives; this includes how much drug is absorbed and how quickly it is absorbed. Extensive research is required to show that they are chemically equivalent.

Health Canada requires that both name-brand and generic drug companies follow the same rules for manufacturing and quality standards. When you take a generic medication, you can trust that its quality and safety are just like the originator drug.


Health Canada also mandates that generic drugs have the same active ingredient and the same amount of it as their brand-name equivalent. This means that for each dose of a generic medication, the same amount of the identical drug molecule does its job in the body as the brand-name version.

Only inactive, non-medicinal ingredients differ between brand-name and generic medications. These include fillers, preservatives, dyes, and flavourings. While inactive, Health Canada regulates these non-medicinal ingredients the same for both generic and brand-name drugs to ensure their safety and quality. While generic versions may look, feel, or taste a bit different, they work the same!

When Do the Differences Between Generic and Brand-Name Drugs Matter?

Some patients have allergies or intolerances to certain inactive ingredients, like lactose, gluten, sulfites, or tartrazine. These patients should check with their pharmacist before starting or switching any medication—regardless of if they are generic or name-brand.

Generic medications offer important cost savings to you and the overall health care system without compromising on safety, quality, or efficacy. If you are interested in switching to a generic medication, ask your pharmacist!

Interested in Learning More?

To learn more, explore the included resources below:

Health Canada

It’s Your Health: The Safety and Effectiveness of Generic Drugs

University of Waterloo

Know Your Stuff: Generic Drugs