Senator Mar Roxas has introduced a bill which would allow parallel importation, where the government would buy cheaper medicines abroad and sell them locally at prices that were substantially lower than those pegged by foreign pharmaceutical firms like Pfizer. The Roxas bill will also allow “early working” or the testing of branded drugs whose patents are about the expire in preparation for the production of generic counterparts. It was precisely the early working of the drug Norvase, which patent will expire in June 2007, that led Pfizer to file suit against Philippine regulatory and trade agencies for alleged patent infringement.
Not surprisingly, the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), an industry group of which Pfizer in a member, is up in arms against the Roxas bill. In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer published on 25 October 2006, PHAP Vice President and CEO Leo Wassmer painted a picture of Sen. Roxas as a foul-mouthed, ambitious opportunist out to advance his own political agenda. According to Wassmer, the Roxas bill will violate the intellectual property rights of foreign pharmaceutical companies. He warned that companies like Pfizer might pull out of the Philippines altogether or bypass it in bringing new medicines to the market. As regards price of medicines in the country, reportedly one of the highest in the region, and which the average Filipino can scarcely afford, Wassmer said, “That’s not our fault. That’s the fault of the government”.
The PHAP’s callous indifference to the plight of poor people, as gleaned from Wassmer’s statements, is reflective of the attitude of large pharmaceutical firms as a whole. Prices are set according to what the market will bear or what those who can afford it are willing to pay, even if this means denying thousands of others from availing of essential drugs.