November 24, 2006 at 3:44 PM #45842
Drug firms defend stance vs importation of cheap medicines
By Christian V. EsguerraInquirerLast updated 11:52pm (Mla time) 11/24/2006
THE Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), under fire for their continued resistance to the importation of cheaper medicines from abroad, responded on Friday with a statement reiterating in general terms the business group’s support for “government initiatives to reform the health sector, particularly steps to improve the accessibility of medicines and health services.”
The PHAP is at loggerheads with the Philippine International Trading Corp. and the Botica ng Bayan (Village Pharmacy) program of the government which wants to import cheaper medicines from India and Pakistan. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer recently sued the PITC for importing one of their medicine brands from unauthorized sources.
The pharmaceutical association led by Edwin Feist, president of Abbott Laboratories, called for a press conference on Thursday to “break its long silence and debunk four myths hotly purveyed in the media.”
The four myths were identified as: “Myth 1: Many Filipinos are dying because of lack of access to medicines. Myth 2: Cheap drugs will make medicines more accessible to Filipinos and will ensure better health for all. Myth 3: Parallel importation will bring down the cost of medicines in the country. Myth 4: Medicine prices in the Philippines are the highest in Asia.
The press conference, however, was cancelled at the last minute for unexplained reasons. A broad and conciliatory press statement was e-mailed instead to the Inquirer.
In it’s statement, the PHAP expressed “total support for the Arroyo administration’s tougher measures against unabated piracy and the counterfeiting problem in the country — especially of products affecting public health and safety, such as medicines.”
It described itself as an “association of local and research-based drug companies committed to making available quality medicines, medical devices, nutritional and consumer healthcare products to help people live longer and healthier lives.”
The statement mentioned that “Every year, through the PHAPCares Foundation, PHAP donates more than P100 million worth of essential medicines to help indigent patients in 72 government hospitals as well as disaster victims in calamity areas.”
Earlier, Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer refuted accusations that its suit against the government agency tasked with importing cheap medicines was compromising the health of Filipinos. The company said it was forced to take legal action against the PITC after it failed to receive reassurances that their patent rights would not be violated.
The dispute revolves around PITC’s move to import amlodipine besylate — the active ingredient in Pfizer’s Norvasc — from what the company claims are “unauthorized sources” in India and Pakistan. Pfizer’s patent on that drug does not expire until June 2007.
November 15, 2006 at 6:28 PM #45431
This isa great news .
Cheap drugs from India a boon
By Ma. Ceres P. DoyoInquirerLast updated 01:19am (Mla time) 11/16/2006
Published on Page A10 of the November 16, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
INDIA has gotten giant drug manufacturers worried. It has challenged the patents on some of the world’s biggest money-making drugs. It has gone into manufacturing of low-cost drugs that would benefit the world’s poor. While India has stumped the big brand-name players, it has given poor nations, such as those in Africa with huge numbers of AIDS cases, a reason to be thankful. Well, count the Philippines among the beneficiaries. But can’t the Philippines do the same? I have been interested in India’s in-your-face kind of upstartness in putting the Goliaths of the drug industry on the defensive (or is it offensive?). A story in yesterday’s Inquirer said that the government-run Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC) will bring in up to P1 billion worth of low-cost medicine in 2007 to make essential drugs affordable to Filipinos. These will be sourced mainly from India and Pakistan. PITC has, in fact, been doing this, but next year’s big batch is getting giant drug multinationals even more worried. PITC sells these cheap medicines through its network of Botika ng Bayan [People’s Drugstore] and Botika ng Barangay [Village Drugstore]. So Pfizer took legal action against PITC, saying that it has no assurance its patent rights would not be violated. With the support of international development agency Oxfam, medicine users picketed Pfizer to stress “patients’ rights over patent rights.” There. Time magazine has come out with stories on India’s drug manufacturing time and again. Aravind Adiga wrote that India’s generic-drug makers are flooding international markets with cheap copycat pills, infuriating behemoth rivals from the United States and Europe. These so-called copycat pills may not be “signature” or branded, but they are not adulterated or less potent. Their components are like the branded ones. And they’re cheaper. Wrote Adiga: “The notion that India’s upstart pharmaceutical firms could be a threat to Goliaths such as Pfizer and Merck might sound as hard to swallow as cod-liver oil. India is the world’s fourth largest drug producer by volume, but its fragmented industry of 20,000 companies is still stunted in terms of revenues. (In 2002), the total value of India’s drug sales including exports came to $6.5 billion, less than the $8 billion Pfizer raked in from a single blockbuster product, its anticholesterol drug Lipitor.” Yet, Time reported, India’s copycat drug firms are becoming a headache for big multinationals. For not only are these Indian drug firms expanding to the United States and Europe, they are also challenging patents so that cheaper alternatives could become widely available. One of the challengers is Yusuf Hamied, chair of the Indian drug company Cipla who declared in 2001 that he was going to sell AIDS drugs to Africa at less than 4 percent of the price charged by multinationals. A couple of years later, Hamied declared, “Today, the daggers are drawn.” Hamied has been described as “the good doctor.” Devastated after seeing an AIDS-stricken friend waste away and die, he set out to do something. In his article for Time, Meenkshi Ganguly described Hamied as an organic chemist and owner of drug firms who made it his mission to find the magic drug. So when Glaxo Wellcome’s AZT and 3TC AIDS cocktails hit the market with promising results, Hamied and his researchers went to work. Hamied’s Cipla has made anti-AIDS drugs available to the French NGO Medicins Sans Frontieres for less than $1 a day ($350 per year) for the poor. “A humanitarian price,” Hamied said. Indian laws allow the manufacture of already patented drugs as long as the process is different from the patented one. Because manufacturing cost in India is relatively low, Cipla is able to sell its medicines at a fraction of the cost of the original — for example, $350 per patient per year for the Cipla AIDS cocktail as against $15,000 for the original. The multinationals did not take this sitting down and howled protests saying India violated intellectual property rights. But these MNCs have long been accused of making giant profits out of poor people’s illnesses. Even after they have recovered the cost of research, their drugs remain overpriced, indirectly sending those who cannot afford the drugs to their deaths. Medicins Sans Frontieres had even argued that some drugs were developed using US public funds and the companies that made them have already made a lot of profits, so why the high cost? And what did Hamied have to say of his drugs? “Just use the bloody thing. So what if I don’t make a profit on AIDS drugs. That is not the be-all or end-all…. To say all Indians are pirates is very good PR. If I am a pirate, I am a thief. If I am a thief, I have broken a law. But I abide by the laws of the land.” Such unnerving effrontery if one may call it that. The man has nerve.Here in the Philippines, it is not the AIDS cocktail that is causing a furor. The Inquirer report said the dispute revolves also around the importation of amlodipine besylate, the active ingredient of Pfizer’s anti-hypertension drug Norvasc, from what Pfizer said are “unauthorized sources” in India and Pakistan. PITC argued that it is merely making medicines affordable for poor Filipinos and paving the way for an early regulatory approval so that the product could be marketed in the Philippines when the patent on Norvasc expires in June 2007. Pfizer looks at this as an infringement on its intellectual property rights. “Gamot sa high blood” [Medicine for high blood], anyone? Patent rights or patients’ rights? * * *Send feedback to [email protected].
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