Patent for Propecia expires in the UK

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The UK patent for Propecia, a hair loss treatment for men, expired on the 11th Oct 2014. A few days later ‘generic Propecia’ or more accurately ‘generic finasteride’ became available from UK pharmacies. A generic medicine is a medicine which is the same as a branded original, but is prescribed and supplied by its medical name, rather than its brand name.

Propecia is a brand name. The active ingredient of Propecia tablets is finasteride 1mg. Propecia tablets and finasteride 1mg tablets are medically the same.

Dr Fox supplies both branded Propecia tablets from the drug company Merck (MSD), which held the original patent, and lower cost generic finasteride 1mg tablets, which other drug companies have made available since Merck’s UK patent expired.

Why patent expiry matters

When a medicine comes off patent price can fall dramatically. Men, who previously paid very high prices for Propecia, may be able to buy medically identical finasteride 1mg at lower prices.

When a medicine is under patent it can only be sold legally by the patent holder. This means the patent holder, which is normally the drug company which paid to develop the medicine in the first place, is free to market the medicine without competition from other pharmaceutical companies. The result is usually very high prices. When a patent expires other drug companies usually start to produce the same medicine, known as a generic copy, and start to compete on price. As a result the cost to patients tends to fall.

How low will the price of Propecia / finasteride 1mg fall?

The cost to patients of a medicine depends on various factors; how much it costs to produce, how much demand there is, how many drug companies supply the same medicine, and how flexible the market is. Even when the wholesale supply price of a medicine falls, the price patients pay does not always fall by the same amount. Retail pharmacies may try not to pass on reduced supply costs to patients, and instead use falling wholesale prices to boost profits. If there is price competition between retailers, as there tends to be between online pharmacies and online clinics, price to patients usually fall in line with falls in wholesale supply costs, but not always.

generic finasteride 1mgDr Fox is one of the lowest cost suppliers of most medicines for both branded and generic medicines.

At the moment (10 Dec 2014) only three pharmaceutical companies, apart from Merck, are supplying finasteride 1mg tablets. These companies are TrentActavis and Mylan. At the time of writing, all are offering their generic equivalent of Propecia at the same price; about 10% less than branded Propecia. Prices will hopefully tumble further in the days and weeks to come (as happened when Viagra came off patent last year).

The original patent holder, Merck (MSD) may reduce the price of Propecia, or start to market its own generic finasteride 1mg alongside branded Propecia.

Brand loyalty and peace of mind

Not all men who previously took Propecia will switch to generic finasteride 1mg, even if the price of Propecia remains high and generic finasteride is a lot cheaper. If a patient is happy with a particular brand of tablet, they often will not switch to a lower cost equivalent, even if they are reliably advised that one tablet is medically the same as the other. Whether or not they switch depends on how much they wish to economise, and all the other factors which keep people buying certain products at high prices when they do not have to.

Background

Finasteride 1mg tablets are taken daily to reduce hair loss in men, and can promote hair regrowth. See Dr Fox hair loss pages for details.

Cheap Propecia may be on its way which would be welcome news to the many men suffering distress as a result of male pattern hair loss.

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