‘Medicines Bill’ passed

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE Senate yesterday approved on third and final reading a bill amending provisions of the Intellectual Property Code meant to make medicine cheaper.

The bill, authored by Senator Mar Roxas, seeks to address three major factors that keep the prices of medicine high.

Roxas said some of the reasons that make basic medicine expensive are the structure of the pharmaceutical industry, the orientation of consumers and doctors on medicine, and protectionist provisions in existing laws.

“This is just the first step toward promoting competition in the local pharmaceutical market that would increase people’s access and lead to lower prices of medicines to ensure our people’s health,” Roxas said in a statement.

In a separate statement, Senate President Manuel Villar said the passage of the bill is proof of the Senate’s commitment to pass measures that will address the people’s health, education and other key requirements.

“Ultimately, it may ease the burden of Filipinos, especially the poor, who cannot afford medicine anymore,” Villar said, adding that the passage of the bill should be backed with an adequate increase in the government’s budget for health programs and reforms.

In pushing for the passage of the bill, Roxas said that only a handful of players control the local pharmaceutical industry, enabling them to practically dictate the prices of medicine.

He also said that consumers and doctors have yet to fully appreciate the value of using generic substitutes for branded medicines.

In addition, he said multinational drug firms have taken advantage of IPC provisions to the detriment of the consumers.

Among others, the bill allows generic drug firms more time to develop and produce generic versions of patented medicines on the basis of what is known as “early working” principle.

Early working refers to the process by which companies are allowed to experiment and test generic versions of a drug for regulatory approval before the drug’s patent expires.

The measure also allows the private sector to buy cheaper medicines from other countries, even if the same brand is available here.

The bill grants the government the power to issue compulsory licenses to other firms to manufacture medicines as an immediate response to public health demands, or for the government to manufacture the same directly.

The bill also seeks to disallow the issuance of another patent for new uses of an existing drug that has already been patented.