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Buying Medication? Look for Bioequivalents and Cheap Pharmacies

SANTIAGO – A large price difference persists between branded medications and their bioequivalents, according to regulator Sernac. Difference in price between stores is also an issue with pharmacies. In response, the government revealed a new policy to combat these problems.

The National Consumer Service (Sernac) released a report that found differences of CLP$181,000 (USD$251) between “branded” medications and their bioequivalents. That is, customers are spending more money on a product when a cheaper option is available that works equally well. 

According to the Institute of Public Health, bioequivalent drugs are “interchangeable” with another product and have “the same efficiency and safety.” Therefore, the government released a policy that will ease access to bioequivalents.

The Price of Medication

The greatest difference in price was found in chemotherapy medication, according to Sernac. The active ingredient capecitabine is used to treat gastric, breast, and colorectal cancer.

The investigation discovered that the original brand of the drug capecitabine, called Xeloda, has a minimum price of CLP$481,405 (USD$670). Its branded bioequivalent called Categor has a price of CLP$439,620 (USD$611), however the generic version of the active ingredient produced by Laboratorio Chile is priced at just CLP$299,995 (USD$417). In this case, the generic medication, which is bioequivalent, is almost 40% cheaper than the well-known brand. 

From last year:

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What Are Bioequivalent Drugs?

One of the largest pharmaceutical companies in Chile, Laboratorio Chile, produces “more than half the generic drugs sold in the country,” according to its website. The company specializes in bioequivalent products, meaning its drugs are cheaper than other brands.

According to the World Health Organization, “Pharmaceutical products are bioequivalent if they are pharmaceutically equivalent or pharmaceutical alternatives, and […] are similar to such a degree that their effects can be expected to be essentially the same.

Difference in Price Between Stores

The study also investigated the price of the same medication in different stores, and discovered that the difference in price can reach up to 932%. So someone could pay over nine times more for medication, solely depending on the pharmacy.

The example used by Sernac to demonstrate this was Hipolixan from Laboratorio Pasteur, which is used for cholesterol reduction. A box of 30 units of 20 mg cost CLP$1,880 (USD$2.60) at Dr. Simi, but CLP$19,399 (USD$26.87) at Salcobrand. That is a difference of CLP$17,519 (USD$24.27) for the same product.

To discover these results, the report analyzed the prices of 1,127 medicines sold in 33 stores in Santiago. The pharmacies included in the study were Ahumada, Cruz Verde, Salcobrand, Belén, Dr. Simi, Espoz, and Farmaprecio. However, pharmacies approached by Chile Today refused to comment on the issue.

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Thoughts from Politicians

The Minister of Economy, Juan Andrés Fontaine, encouraged people to ask for bioequivalent drugs in pharmacies. He said patients should, “ask doctors to ensure they write down the generic drug in the prescription, so that when customers go to the pharmacies, they get the medications that are cheaper than those that are branded.”

Speaking about this report, the Minister of Health, Jaime Mañalich said, “it turns out that with what one pays for a box of a brand name drug, one can buy 17 boxes of the bioequivalent medicine with certified quality. This means, with what one pays for a month of treatment, one can finance 17 months of treatment. This is a scandalous difference.”

New National Drug Policy

Piñera announced a new National Drug Policy on October 7, which includes measures to ensure that consumers are getting fairer prices for their medication. 

The policy mandates that pharmacies will have a minimum stock of bioequivalent medication. The government will also implement measures to educate the public on asking for the bioequivalent of their medication, called the “Demand the Yellow” campaign.

Speaking at an event at the Palacio de La Moneda, the president said, “We will not allow this abuse against Chileans to continue.”

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