Where do new drugs come from?


From manufacture to sale

Thousands of medicines are stored in the cupboards of the pharmacies - as tablets, capsules or ampoules. Medicines worth billions of euros are sold in Germany every year.

In the past, pharmacists made the medicines themselves. Today the funds usually come from mass production. To make the pills, capsules, ointments or liquids, the manufacturers use different methods.

The most common dosage form is the tablet: The ingredients are weighed, mixed, pressed into shape and then provided with a coating.

The guidelines for production are strict: the pharmaceutical companies must manufacture the drugs in a sterile manner. You must constantly check the consistency, quality and purity of the drug. The manufacturers must document each step in detail.

Patents protect new drugs

Developing innovative drugs is expensive. Research and development can take more than ten years. In order to make the effort for the pharmaceutical companies worthwhile, they have the new active ingredient protected by a patent for ten to 15 years. No other company is allowed to manufacture the drug during this period.

Patent-protected drugs are usually very expensive. Although they make up only seven percent of all prescribed drugs, they are almost half the cost in the market.

Generics: Medicines with the same effect

If the patent for a drug has expired, other manufacturers can use the active ingredient and produce a generic drug. This is a medicine that contains the same active ingredient but has a different name.

A prominent example is acetylsalicylic acid (ASA). The pharmaceutical company Bayer initially sold the drug under the Aspirin brand. There are numerous other drugs on the market today that contain ASA.

In Germany, some pharmaceutical companies such as Ratiopharm or Hexal concentrate on the production of generics. They offer many different active ingredients. These drugs are usually cheaper than the original preparations.

In addition, the approval of generics is easier for the pharmaceutical companies because they can refer to the documents of the original manufacturer.

When the patent for a high-selling drug expires, several generics usually come onto the market after a short period of time. Since the generics are cheaper, doctors prescribe them preferentially. The manufacturer of the original is then often forced to lower the price.

Counterfeit drugs are a global problem

Despite guidelines and strict controls, counterfeiting of drugs is a global problem. A medicine is considered counterfeit if it contains no, too little or the wrong active ingredient. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States estimates that around a tenth of all drugs are affected.

Above all, the counterfeiters produce drugs that can generate high sales. These are often life-saving preparations such as antibiotics or agents against malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.

Medicines are often counterfeited in countries where there are insufficient controls: in Africa, Asia and Latin America, it is estimated that between ten and 30 percent of medicines are contaminated or ineffective.

In the United States, Australia and the European Union, however, the proportion is less than one percent, say experts from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Nevertheless: there are also counterfeits in Germany. In 2007, German customs officials confiscated medicines worth around 8.3 million euros. The counterfeiters mainly sell the funds via the Internet.

On-line- Pharmacies are trendy

Patients are increasingly getting their medication online. You send the prescription to an online pharmacy and have the medicine delivered to your home.

Every second Internet user has already ordered medicines from an online pharmacy. The Federal Association of the Information Industry (Bitkom) found this out with a survey.

Two fifths even buy medicines regularly on the Internet. Contrary to expectations, older people also order online: More than half of 50 to 64 year olds have already ordered medication from an online pharmacy.

The advantages of the online pharmacy: Patients can order and pay cashless regardless of time and place. Over-the-counter drugs are also often cheaper because online retailers save many of the costs that conventional pharmacies have to cover, such as rent and staff.

Users can even order prescription drugs by sending the prescription in a letter to the mail order pharmacy. Many of them also offer advice - by phone, email or live chat.

If you want to buy your medication in an online pharmacy, you should make sure that the online pharmacy is registered in the mail order register of the German Institute for Medical Documentation and Information (DIMDI).