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Cheaper generic versions of diabetes drug prove effective

By WANG XIAOYU | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-02-29 08:57
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Generic and more affordable versions of the diabetes drug metformin that have been included in China's bulk buy program are as effective as their brand-name counterparts, according to a study released by the National Healthcare Insurance Administration on Tuesday.

A number of generic drugs have been added to China's centralized procurement to cut prices of costly medicines and ease patients' financial burdens. However, there are lingering worries over generic versions' efficacy and safety.

To assuage such concerns, the administration has rolled out several studies to evaluate generic drugs' effectiveness in real-world clinical settings.

According to a study focusing on metformin, the blood glucose control rate for patients using brand-name drugs and the rate for those on generic drugs both stood at around 80 percent, adding to evidence that generic drugs are as effective as brand-name ones.

The study, carried out by two top hospitals in China, involved more than 800 patients and evaluated four key treatment outcomes over a span of three months.

Around 79 percent of patients on brand-name drugs saw their glycosylated hemoglobin levels — a reflection of average glucose levels — fall to the normal range, compared with 83 percent of the generic drug group.

About 88 percent of patients put on brand-name drugs had their fasting blood glucose level stay in the normal range, compared with 84 percent in the generic drug group.

The administration added that for both groups, around 20 percent of diabetes patients found treatment outcomes less satisfactory and were in need of other therapies.

The study also monitored adverse reactions and said no significant adverse effects were observed.

Metformin is a commonly used drug for patients with diabetes, which affects around one in 10 Chinese adults. Generic metformin tablets — all made by Chinese companies — were included in the third round of China's centralized procurement program in August 2020.

Thanks to the program, the price of a half-gram tablet of immediate-release metformin dropped from 0.4 yuan ($0.06) to around 0.06 yuan, the administration said, saving the average patient 1.36 yuan a day.

The price of sustained-release metformin fell from 0.7 to 0.1 yuan per tablet, with the daily cost dropping from 2.8 to 0.4 yuan.

Hospitals prescribed 11.4 billion generic metformin tablets last year, accounting for 84 percent of the total use of the medicine nationwide.

The administration said that after generic drugs win inclusion in bulk procurement, drug regulators continue to oversee production, logistics and clinical use, and launch thorough examinations to ensure their quality.

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