Patent for Hair Loss Drug Propecia Expires in the UK

PropeciaPropecia is a prescription only medicine and currently costs around £40 per month, however this could reduce very substantially in the coming weeks.

The price of the generic alternative to branded Viagra fell by about 90% when it’s patent expired last year.

Now sildenafil (generic Viagra) is more freely available on the NHS and the same may happen with Propecia.

Dr Tony Steele from online hair loss clinic doctorfox said:

“This is welcome news for men suffering from male pattern or hereditary hair loss. This treatment is usually not available on the NHS, the savings could be significant.”

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.

The drug company Merck (MSD) held the original patent. The lower cost generic finasteride 1mg tablets are now being supplied by other drug companies, since Merck’s UK patent expired.

Why patent expiry matters

When a medicine comes off patent price can fall dramatically, as seen when Viagra (medical name sildenafil) came off-patent last year and prices plummeted within a week.

Men, who previously paid very high prices for Propecia, may be able to buy medically identical finasteride 1mg at lower prices in the coming weeks.

When a medicine is under patent it can only be sold legally by the patent holder – in the case of Propecia the pharmaceutical company Merck (MSD).

This means the patent holder, 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. They then 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 falls in line with falls in wholesale supply costs, but not always.

At the moment (Oct 14th 2014) only two pharmaceutical companies, apart from Merck (MSD), are supplying finasteride 1mg tablets. These companies are Trent and Actavis.

At the time of writing, both are offering their generic equivalent of Propecia at the same price; about 10% less than branded Propecia. Prices will hopefully fall further in the days and weeks to come as other pharma companies make generic versions available and the market adjusts.

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 currently take 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.


Propecia/Finasteride 1mg tablets are taken daily to reduce hair loss in men, and can promote hair regrowth. Hair growth usually starts to improve after three months.

Two thirds of men who take Propecia will benefit from renewed hair growth. Maximum benefit is seen after two years.

See Dr Fox hair loss pages for details. Dr Fox is one of the lowest cost suppliers of most medicines for both branded and generic versions.