Competition and price among brand-name drugs in the same class: A systematic review of the evidence

PLoS Med. 2019 Jul 30;16(7):e1002872. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002872. eCollection 2019 Jul.


Background: Some experts have proposed combating rising drug prices by promoting brand-brand competition, a situation that is supposed to arise when multiple US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved brand-name products in the same class are indicated for the same condition. However, numerous reports exist of price increases following the introduction of brand-name competition, suggesting that it may not be effective. We performed a systematic literature review of the peer-reviewed health policy and economics literature to better understand the interplay between new drug entry and intraclass drug prices.

Methods and findings: We searched PubMed and EconLit for original studies on brand-brand competition in the US market published in English between January 1990 and April 2019. We performed a qualitative synthesis of each study's data, recording its primary objective, methodology, and results. We found 10 empirical investigations, with 1 study each on antihypertensives, anti-infectives, central nervous system stimulants for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, disease-modifying therapies for multiple sclerosis, histamine-2 (H2) blockers, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors; 2 studies on cancer medications; and 2 studies on all marketed or new drugs. None of the studies reported that brand-brand competition lowers list prices of existing drugs within a class. The findings of 2 studies suggest that such competition may help restrain how new drug prices are set. Other studies found evidence that brand-brand competition was mediated by the relative quality of competing drugs and the extent to which they are marketed, with safer or more effective new drugs and greater marketing associated with higher intraclass list prices. Our investigation was limited by the studies' use of list rather than net prices and the age of some of the data.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that policies to promote brand-brand competition in the US pharmaceutical market, such as accelerating approval of non-first-in-class drugs, will likely not result in lower drug list prices absent additional structural reforms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cost Savings
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Drug Costs / trends*
  • Economic Competition / trends*
  • Health Expenditures / trends*
  • Humans
  • Marketing of Health Services / economics*
  • Models, Economic
  • Prescription Drugs / classification
  • Prescription Drugs / economics*


  • Prescription Drugs

Grants and funding

This project was funded by the Anthem Public Policy Institute. AS and ASK’s research is also supported by the Arnold Ventures, the Harvard-MIT Center for Regulatory Science, and the Engelberg Foundation. The funder provided comments on an earlier draft and had no role in the design and conduct of the study; the collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; the approval of the final manuscript; or the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.