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Philippines pricing controls: Pfizer 'considered taking drugs off the market'

Published on 02/09/11 at 09:41am

Pfizer considered withdrawing some of its products from the Philippines rather than face planned pricing controls, according to a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks.

The March 2009 cable was sent during intense debate about drug pricing in the country as the Philippines’ Department of Health drew up a list of 25 prescription medicines that could have been affected.

These included antidiabetics and insulin, cancer drugs, antibiotics, asthma and blood pressure drugs.

The cable allegedly shows Pfizer representatives saying: “If these price controls are put into effect, [Pfizer] will withdraw many drugs from the Philippine market.”

The cable goes on to say the Philippine government “must tread carefully” with this list, and should not ignore Pfizer’s warning that it could withdraw many drugs from the Philippine market if price controls were put into effect. 

It cites Pfizer’s withdrawal of medicines from Thailand - following laws on compulsory licensing that cut drug prices - as a “clear demonstration” of the risks involved.

The cable also notes that Pfizer warned the Department of Health that for certain antibiotics - including its own treatments - small doses could promote antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and claimed that it was “being pressed to sell antibiotics that currently cost over 1,000 [$23] pesos for the 100-peso fixed price”.

Three months later, pricing controls were put in place in the country when its president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, signed an executive order to regulate the prices of seven drugs.

The pharma industry offered to reduce the prices of a further 14 of its drugs to the government’s desired level, bringing the total number of regulated drugs to 21 when the order was signed in July 2009.

Leading up to 2009, the government had initially wished to cut all major drug brands by 50% in a voluntary deal with the industry, but some pharma firms refused to sign up to this agreement. 

The government did not want to compromise in its cuts programme so enacted its executive order in 2009 to ensure the reduction of the country’s highest priced drugs.  

These included drugs for high blood pressure, antivirals, cancer, cholesterol, and Pfizer’s big selling anti-hypertension drug Norvasc.

At the time Pfizer said it was willing to cut the prices of 10 of its drugs, but was “disappointed to learn that the government did not accept our offer”.

The company was not immediately available for comment when contacted about the WikiLeaks cable.

Ben Adams

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