Cheaper medicine as generic drugs hits market

Close to 50 drug patents are due to expire by this year and generic versions will come onto the market.

So patients can expect cheaper medication.

The Health Sciences Authority has approved 18 first-time generic drugs for sale here in the past couple of years. These are for a range of treatments, from antibiotics to cancer, and include a generic version of popular asthma drug Singulair.

A company which develops a drug gets a patent to produce it exclusively for 20 years, after which other companies are free to offer copycat versions.

The switch to the generic versions can often result in huge savings. Last year, Singapore General Hospital patients saved $900,000 after it switched to generic versions of alendronate (for osteoporosis), gabapentin (nerve pain) and clindamycin (an antibiotic).

Patents expiring this year include that for Plavix, an anti-platelet medication frequently used by heart patients. A blockbuster drug that recently became available as generic is cholesterol drug Lipitor, with global sales of US$12.7 billion in 2010. A spokesman for Khoo Teck Puat Hospital said the original costs $2.21 and the generic $1.27.