Pfizer is one of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, with 2005 revenues of US$ 51.36 Billion. The New York based company turns our well-known prescription drugs, like the life-saving Viagra, and consumer products like Listerene. Check out your medicine cabinet and you will likely find a Pfizer product.
Pfizer trumpets on its website that “Everyone Should Be Able To Get The Medicines They Need”. Indeed. But only, it seems, if the price is right. And the price is what Pfizer wants it to be.
With its size and global presence, what does Pfizer want out of the Philippines ? Surely there are larger and more lucrative markets than this country of 80 million long-suffering souls. The annual per-capita income for the 1/3 of the population considered “poor” by Philippine standards is less than US$300.00. Less than 30% of the population have regular access to essential drugs. Yet Pfizer has chosen to draw a line in the sand on Philippine shores.
In March 2006, Pfizer filed suit against the Philippine Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) and the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC), the government’s trading arm, for patent infringement. The patent for Pfizer’s hypertension drug Norvase expires in 2007. The BFAD and PITC were preparing for this eventuality by testing and starting the registration process for a generic version of Narvasc manufactured in India. This is a practice known as “early working” of a patent and is perfectly legal in the U.S. and other countries. Neither is early working prohibited in the Philippines. Pfizer took exception to this and hailed the Philippine regulatory and trading agencies to court.
What’s the big deal, you say ? Consider this. The leading cause of mortality from illness in the Philippines is heart disease, accounting for approximately 72,000 deaths annually. Norvase is, without question, a very effective drug for hypertension. Why not buy from Pfizer then instead of going through all the trouble of introducing a generic version and getting dragged to court in the process ? Simply because Pfizer sells a 10 mg. dose of Norvase for US1.50 (Pesos: 75.00) in the Philippines as against only US$.18 in India. Norvase costs 700% more in the Philippines than elsewhere. Pfizer has not even bothered to explain the enormous price difference between what it sells in the Philippines and those very same products in other countries. Its no wonder then that the government is eager, even desperate, to import the drug. But Pfizer is not about to let this happen.
The argument is that Pfizer needs to recover its substantial investments in R & D. It therefore has to zealously protect its intellectual property rights even if this means denying medicine to those who need it most.
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