Satur wants “heart war” between 2 giant drug companies probed

By Cherry Pie Eggpie Sandoval, contributor

Manila, Philippines- Front running Makabayan senatorial candidate and Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo asked the House of Representatives to investigate what he called a brewing war between Philippine drug company United Laboratories, Inc. (Unilab) and transnational pharmaceutical firm Pfizer Inc. over the production of a maintenance drug for patients afflicted with cardiovascular diseases.

In a press statement sent to The Pamalakaya Times, the Deputy Minority Leader said Unilab filed last July 9 a petition with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) for the cancellation of Philippine Patent No. 29149 for Atorvastatin being marketed by Pfizer under the brand name Lipitor. Pfizer’s patent prevents the creation and marketing of any similar drug and essentially gives the company a monopoly hold over the maintenance drug.

Ocampo argued there is basis to say that Pfizer’s application for a patent in the Philippines is exploitative as it tends to abuse the patent system. Pfizer may be unjustly extending its monopoly on the drug by introducing minor modifications just to extend the life of its patent, a practice known as ‘evergreening.

The Makabayan hopeful in 2010 elections said that by seeking to monopolize the production and sale of a maintenance drug that is crucial to the survival of many Filipinos with heart diseases, Pfizer is doing a great disservice to the people.

“It wants its own product Lipitor to be the only product on the market, but Lipitor’s exorbitant price is enough to cause heart attacks,” Ocampo said.

The Bayan Muna solon said Lipitor costs P34.45, P39.13 and P50.50 per 10, 20 and 40 mg tablets, respectively. Since Lipitor is to be taken at least once daily, the average cost to a patient is at least P34.45-P50.50 a day. In the meantime, Unilab is marketing Avamax, its generic version of Atorvastatin at a price 30% cheaper than Lipitor: 10 mg for P25.00; 20 mg. for P30.00; and 40 mg. for P35.00.

The activist lawmaker added that the issue falls under the jurisdiction of the Cheaper Medicines Act which was enacted specifically to bring down prices of medicine and make it more accessible to the public. The law, which Ocampo co-authored, also aims to put an end to patent abuse in the industry.

“This is a case involving a local drug company and a transnational firm: a David vs. Goliath case. It’s a test of the government’s determination to reduce drug prices. It also has serious implications on the country’s economic sovereignty and how our own industries hold out against foreign competition, and how all this impacts on the public,” Ocampo said.

Insiders in the drug industry revealed Lipitor was the largest-selling drug in the world in 2006, earning its producers US$12.9 Billion in sales the same year alone. In the Philippines, it earned more than P850 Million in sales within the period of May 1, 2008 – April 30, 2009. In 2008, Lipitor sales internationally were at US$13 billion, with about US$15 million coming from the Philippines. Since the time it was launched in the country, Lipitor sales have been at US$162 million.

“Congress should also investigate reports that Pfizer and Warner-Lambert have threatened many local drugstores not to carry such medicine other than theirs. This is predatory business practice that without doubt could mean the life and death of many Filipinos suffering heart ailments. If there is truth to these reports, sanctions should be laid down against Pfizer Inc.,” Ocampo said. #

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