Medical Terrorism

Posted on July 15, 2006. Filed under: Resources |

by Angelito Mendoza
Published on www.batasnews.com

‘There was a time not long ago that pharmaceutical companies were merely the size of nations. Now, after a frenzied two-year period of pharmaceutical mega-mergers, they are behemoths, which outweigh entire continents. The combined worth of the world’s top five drug companies is twice the combined GNP of all sub-Saharan Africa and their influence on the rules of world trade is many times stronger because they can bring their wealth to bear directly on the levers of western power.’

The Guardian, February 13, 2001

One very classic example of a behemoth is Pfizer. It has become the largest and richest pharmaceutical enterprise in the world when it took over Warner-Lambert – a smaller company and Pfizer competitor — in 1999. It has grown so large that in 2005, its total assets amount to more than US$117 billion and total revenues US$51.3 billion as compared to only US$175 millon in sales in 1965. These are from sales of pharmaceutical products, consumer health care products, and animal health products. It has also in 2005 spent US$7.4 billion for research and development – more than any other pharmaceutical company in the world!

Pfizer belongs to the elite in the pharmaceutical industry whose medicines are also only accessible to the elite. Even with a market like the Philippines, Pfizer keeps its prices of medicines high making Pfizer products accessible only to a small number of Filipinos. It doesn’t care whether the Philippines’ infant morbidity rate remains very high at 35% as long as it keeps its prices and profits high. The Pfizer price is targeted at only the wealthiest Philippine residents – that is no more than the top 5 percent of the population. Like many developing countries with a highly skewed and unequal income distribution, selling to the economic elite at high prices is the profit maximizing strategy for Pfizer.

Pfizer, Ltd. (UK) is the registered owner of Philippine Letters Patent No. 24348 on amlodipine besylate (the “Pfizer Patent”), which will expire on June 13, 2007. Pfizer, Inc. (Philippines) is the exclusive licensee of Pfizer Ltd. in the Philippines (collectively, “Pfizer”).

Pfizer, Inc. has recently filed a civil case against the Philippines International Trading Corporation (PITC) and the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD), and two Philippine government regulators (in their personal capacity!!) before the Makati Regional Trial Court for patent infringement relative to amlodipine besylate marketed by Pfizer under the brand name “NORVASC”

The patent infringement suit, now pending before the Regional Trial Court of Makati, Branch 61, seeks to prevent PITC from immediately offering a generic version of Norvasc after Pfizer’s patent expires in June 2007. Norvasc, or amlodipine besylate, is an anti-hypertension medicine which last year generated more than one billion (yes, billion) Peso sales for Pfizer Philippines. It is a medicine that has to be taken once a day for the rest of one’s life. In the country, Pfizer sells a 5 mg tablet of Norvasc for P44.75 and a 10 mg tablet for P74.50. In contrast, the same product is sold by Pfizer in India under the brand name Amlogard™ at P6.00 per 5 mg tablet and P9.00 per 10 mg tablet, or 650% (for 5 mg) and 730% (for 10 mg) cheaper than in the Philippines!

Competition in the global market is often determined by control over technology, which many transnational corporations jealously guard, often through unfair use of patents, copyrights and so on. Pfizer has long been engaged in a campaign of intimidation to prevent generic competition in the Philippines. It has repeatedly threatened not only BFAD and PITC with lawsuits, but also domestic generic companies. They have also been engaged in an insidious campaign among doctors and the public to denigrate more affordable generic products. This scheme is not new to the Philippines as it is often victimized by transnationals’ patenting materials produced in the Philippines with the benefits not even shared with our country.

What does Pfizer stand from filing the suit against BFAD and PITC? Billions of pesos. In fact, at least two billion pesos of additional sales from Norvasc™ after its patent expires in 2007.

It takes at least 18 months before a generic medicine is approved by BFAD, not counting the protracted delays resulting from interventions made by Pfizer during the drug evaluation process. This means that even if Pfizer’s patent expires in 2007, it can continue to charge monopolistic prices for its Norvasc to the detriment of the Filipino consumers. This is a model Pfizer is sure to replicate when patents over its other products (the anti-cholesterol product Lipitor and the antibiotic products Zithromax and Unasyn) expire.

Ironically, while the United States government points an accusing finger to the Philippines for allegedly not providing enough protection to the intellectual property rights of its citizens, its biggest pharmaceutical citizen is now throwing its weight around, abusing OUR patent system and intimidating our government institutions – all because it wants to maintain its monopoly profits beyond the life of its patent.

This is terrorism in the truest sense of the word — the kind that sows terror to and endangers the lives of 80 million Filipinos.

This must come to an end.

The WTO DOHA Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health upholds the rights of governments to enforce measures that will protect public health. It also gives the States various tools to fulfill public health obligations and ensure access to cheaper drugs. The Philippine Government should continue to use and maximize these policy flexibilities, to ensure that everyone will have access to affordable, quality, and therapeutically equivalent medicines. It is also imperative that PFIZER read and understand these crucial flexibilities. Specifically:

  1. Pfizer should recognize that their patents rights are not absolute. They also have to recognize that there are certain exceptions to patent rights which are provided already in the TRIPS Agreement and reaffirmed in the WTO’s Doha Ministerial Declaration on TRIPS Agreement and Public Health;
  2. Pfizer should respect the right of the Philippine Government which is embodied in the actions initiated by the PITC and BFAD, to take steps that will lead to the lowering of prices of medicines which are already very high in the country, including the parallel importation of branded medicines from countries which produce these medicines at a significantly lower cost than the Philippines;
  3. Pfizer does not have the right to stop the acts of Government including other smaller generic companies from taking steps to develop a generic equivalent to their patented product; these exceptions are already provided for in the Philippines’ Intellectual Property Code.

————————————————-
Mendoza is convenor of the Ayos na Gamot sa Abot-Kayang Presyo (AGAP) Coalition. He regularly contributes articles and op-ed pieces to www.batasnews.com. You can reach  Mendoza at amendozancl@yahoo.com.

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5 Responses to “Medical Terrorism”

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Eli Lilly is a big drug company that puts profits over patients.
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I just wanted to say WOW!l

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