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An Update On The Developments In The Philippines And Thai Pharmaceutical Patent Regimes

Philippines

The cost of medicines in the Philippines is among the highest in the world. It was reported that Norvasc, a medicine for hypertension, is sold in the Philippines for USD1 per 5mg tablet; while in India and Pakistan, the same drug is priced at around USD0.14 whereas Plendil, also for hypertension, is priced in the Philippines at USD0.54 per tablet while it costs only USD0.07 in India. A Ventolin inhaler for asthma patients is sold for nearly USD8 in the local market while in India it costs only USD3. Other medicines also show the same disparity. Ponstan, a common painkiller, costs only USD0.08 in India but costs USD0.60 per pill in the Philippines. Bactrim 400, priced at USD0.40 per tablet in the Philippines, can be bought for only USD0.02 in Pakistan and USD0.01 in India.

The Filipino lawmakers are bewildered why such differences in prices of the drugs as majority of the Filipinos can barely afford these drugs. Under tremendous pressure from various right groups, the Philippines Congress reportedly is considering a measure called the Cheaper Medicines Bill which aims to lower the cost of medicine by weakening or revoking patents on pharmaceutical drugs.

The Bill seeks to amend the Intellectual Property Code in order to allow the parallel importation of more affordable medicines from abroad; support the generics industry by adopting the early working principle and to disallow the grant of new patents on grounds of new use and give ample muscle to the government through a framework for government use and compulsory licensing. The Bill also reiterates the president’s power, patterned after the Price Act, to impose drug price ceilings in times of calamity, public health emergencies, illegal price manipulation and other instances of unreasonable drug price hikes.

This Bill is expected to be passed by the Congress and it is expected to receive protests from pharmaceutical companies, particularly the innovator drug companies. The arguments that these innovator drug companies will have is that it costs them USD800 million on average to develop and introduce a new drug to market. Without the patent protection, it is unlikely that they can re-coup the investment and in fact will discourage further research and development in pharmaceutical drugs.

Others feel that by simply enforcing the Bill will not lower the price of the drugs as the tax slapped on drugs are relatively high in the Phillippines. The Phillippines are currently charging an import tax of 5% and a value-added tax of 12% on drugs. They feel that the best way of reducing the price is by lowering the taxes or scrapping all together will be a good start.

Thailand

The Thai government is set to continue to override the patents on three cancer drug treatments, Novartis’ Femara, Sanofi-Aventis’ Taxotere and Genentech’s Tarceva.

The government’s compulsory licensing policy has been consistently reviewed and the latest report issued in March 2008 has revealed that by continuing the compulsory license policy, will save the government approximately USD100 million a year and allow cancer patients access to affordable drugs.

Nevertheless, the Thai government also values its relationship with drug manufacturers who are willing to reduce the prices of the drugs. It was evident when Thailand cancelled its compulsory license on a fourth cancer drug, Novartis’ Gleevec after Novartis agreed to supply it free to hundreds of leukemia patients in Thailand.

A senior official of the government said the Government Pharmaceutical Organization would now start negotiations to obtain the three cancer treatments under compulsory license from generics manufacturers, including Indian firms which are currently supplying Thailand with HIV/AIDS drugs. However, he added that if talks with the innovator drug manufacturers resulted in significantly lowered prices, the government could decide to purchase these instead.

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