Senator Mar Roxas, chair of the Senate committee on trade and commerce and author of Senate bill 2139, which seeks to amend RP patent law on medicines, today urged concerned government agencies like the DA, DTI and DOH to include as part of their preparation for an imminent bird flu epidemic, the potential production of the antiflu drug, Tamiflu, locally.
“If part of our preparation against bird flu is only to prepare the hospital beds and isolation rooms of 21 hospitals all over the country then we are bound to fail,” Roxas said. “There should be a collective effort among government agencies, international health organizations, and local pharmaceutical firms to work closely together and draw up immediate as well as long-term action against bird flu outbreak,” he added.
The DOH has announced yesterday that the government is expecting P8.5 million worth of antiflu drugs on January and another P1.7 million order through the World Health Organization. The most common antiflu drug is Oseltamivir or Tamiflu, which is exclusively manufactured by Swiss company Roche. The said prescription drug cost between P1,400 and P1,750 for a pack of 10 capsules.
“At a time when Filipino consumers are desperately trying to make ends meet or put a decent food on their table, where will they get the money to pay for these expensive antiflu medicines?” Roxas asks.
The solon has earlier prescribed that CPR (calibrated preemptive response) should be implemented to combat a possible birdflu pandemic by pushing for compulsory licensing for Tamiflu.
“Local drug manufacturers can actually help produce more affordable antiflu drugs but because of stringent patent laws to manufacture a generic Tamiflu this not possible today,” Roxas lamented.
The patent for Tamiflu runs until 2016 making it difficult for other drug companies to manufacture it as a generic drug. Generic drugs, meanwhile, are produced only after the patent expires and the product becomes public property.
Once enacted into a law, the Roxas amendment or SB 2139 will make it easier for local pharmaceutical companies to conduct research and development on patented medicines even before the product’s exclusivity expires. It is also meant to effectively curb any health threat that could affect growth strides of the economy through the lowering of prices of medicines.
“The time calls for a long-term response against a deadly disease that is threatening the world, we can not just rely on knee-jerk reactions from our agencies,” he said. The senator made the statement in light of recent threats of diseases like SARS, AIDS/HIV, the old-time killers like cancer and tuberculosis, and bird flu, whose presence is now being felt in many parts of the world.
Likewise, the solon also urged local drug manufacturing firms to keep up with the challenge and beef up operations and file compulsory licensing petition before the Intellectual Property Office or IPO for Tamiflu so that they can produce generic drugs at affordable price. He also called on the IPO to fast track applications for compulsory licensing.
The Senate committee on trade and commerce, which Roxas chairs, will open a Senate inquiry on amendments to RP patent laws when the Senate session resumes next week or on November 7.
AMENDMENT' TO HELP CURB IMPACT OF HEALTH CRISIS ON ECONOMY
Senate Bill 2139 efficiently seeks to lower the prices of medicines in the whole country by introducing amendments to current intellectual property and patent laws that govern the manufacture, sale, and production of medicines.
"The state of public health is definitively linked with economic growth," Roxas stressed. "Senate Bill 2139 aims to safeguard not only our people from deadly diseases but protect the economy from its debilitating effects."
According to a recent report, globalization and extensive migration have caused health crises to have a greater impact on society and the economy.
What aggravates the problem, according to the report, is the lack of immediate access to ample amounts of medicine and medical information, as was the case with SARS outbreak a few years back.
In Malaysia, at the onset of the Nipah and SARS outbreak, the hotel industry slumped dramatically and had incurred losses amounting to $20 million.
The Nipah contagion hit the pig farming industry in Malaysia, incurring losses of $120 million in export trade. Tax revenues suffered a loss of about $105 million. It took the country $136 million to contain just one of the outbreaks.
"We are blessed that SARS did not affect the Philippines as it did other countries," Roxas explained. "But we cannot sit back and wait for a more devastating outbreak before we should act to protect our families."
The bill, Roxas maintained, empowers government through a more liberal compulsory licensing process to import, manufacture, sell and distribute any drug or medicine based on a coordinated determination by the Department of Health and the Department of Trade and Industry.
In short, medicines will be made available by amending legal impediments, particularly intellectual property and patent laws, all the more during outbreaks and serious epidemics.
Even without having suffered the impact of SARS or bird flu, public health spending in the Philippines has already ballooned to around $1.1 billion, the highest level of spending by any ASEAN country.
"There is an urgent need to act on this bill. Part of effective governance is to be able to institute a plan before the problem strikes,” Roxas said. “We should have learned from our experiences in dealing with SARS and meningococcemia.
Also, in the July 2005 Pulse Asia survey, the most urgent personal concern of Filipinos today is how to avoid illnesses and to stay healthy at 53%.