Other multinational drug companies are anticipating the outcome of the case filed by Pfizer against Philippine regulatory and trading agencies for alleged patent infringement. This was effectively become a test case for the drug industry to challenge the early working of patents about to expire. Even if Pfizer’s suit does not prosper, it has managed to sidetrack the efforts of the Philippine authorities to introduce cheaper alternatives to the branded medicines now dominating the market.
The Philippine market for pharmaceuticals, although not as big as more advanced countries, stands at a still substantial US$1.8 billion. More than 70% of total sales is accounted for by foreign multinational companies like Pfizer.
To be sure, not all the blame can be placed at the drug companies’ doorstep. Filipinos are notoriously brand-conscious. Branded drugs have a edge because of the widespread perception that low-cost medicines, particulalry generics, are of inferior quality. Thus, a full 18 years after the Generic Drugs Law was passed, true generics account for a miniscule 4% of medicines sold in the country, as compared to 50% in the U.S.