Philippine Generic Drugs

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Generic drugs in the Philippines.  Are they safe?  Are they really affordable? Are there better options? Our impression is that the Philippine pharmaceutical industry manufactures few drugs. Mostly it buys raw ingredients, or semi-finished products, repackages and markets them. The vast majority of drug manufacturing for Asia (and the rest of the world)  is in India and China. Increasingly U.S. pharmaceutical firms are farming-out their drug manufacturing to developing countries, especially India.  Even the biggest, most established Indian drug makers have had quality control problems. If they market in the U.S., their plants are to be inspected by the FDA. The FDA found problems at Dr. Reddy, which is now owned by a Japanese drug company. It’s probably the cream of the crop. Usually you have no idea where the generic drug in a Philippine pharmacy actually comes from. I have never seen any generic drugs from the big established generic firms such as Teva or Mylan.

Filipino physicians are themselves suspicious of generic drugs in the Philippines. A survey of physicians showed that 70% are opposed to the 1988 generic drugs act.  Why?  A majority of these physicians believe that the Philippine Bureau of Food and Drugs is not capable of ensuring the quality of the generic drugs.  Filipinos also tend to buy brand name drugs.  It’s hard to know if these suspicions are justified.  Pharmaceutical sales reps overrun the offices of Philippine doctors, just as they do in the U.S.  Most of them are articulate, well groomed and attractive.  It would be surprising if they did not encourage physicians to be suspicious of the generics which are a threat to their employers and their own jobs.  This is a replay of what happened in the U.S. in the early days of generics.

In our experience, Philippine physicians mostly seem uninterested in the affordability of the drugs they prescribe.  Most specify expensive brand-name drugs.  We usually ask physicians about the availability of generics.  Sometimes they seem surprised and disappointed with their patient that they would stoop to use generics.  The the drug company brain washing seems to work!

We have used Philippine generics for years.  We stick to buying them at Mercury or another reputable pharmacy such as Rose or Watson’s.  Usually we buy United Labs or Pharex products.  These are the two biggest generic drug makers in the Philippines.  The drugs work as they should.  We have had no problems.  But, Philippine generics are not inexpensive by world standards. For example, Bob takes the drug Finasteride each day and will have to for the remainder of his life.  A generic version costs $1.08 (USD) per pill at Mercury.  The same tablet from a big Indian pharmaceutical company (Cipla) costs $.40.   Pfizer Atorvastatin (Lipitor – made in Turkey) 40mg costs $1.17 at Mercury.  The Cipla product costs $.68 (plus postage) at https://www.alldaychemist.com.

So, if they can afford it, expats and well-to-do Filipinos can stick with overpriced brand name drugs at very high prices. We tend to shop at Mercury Drug or Watson (owned by a big Hong Kong corporation) in the hope that they might exercise some judgment over the generics they sell.  I read that a Mercury rep suggests that their generics are suitable for the middle classes — that is those who can’t afford brand name drugs but who don’t feel comfortable with ordinary generics.

Here’s an article giving some insight into the Philippine generic drugs market as well as that for some SE Asia neighbors.

More reading:
http://www.tsinoy.com/article_item.php?articleid=714

http://firequinito.com/archives/7-PBL-Preview-Jappy-Pascual-and-the-Pharex-Generix.html

Comments (9) Write a comment

  1. Pingback: Philippine Essential Drugs List | My Philippine Life

  2. Our family uses either Pharex (PascualLab) or RiteMed (generic line of Unilab, a major PHL pharmaceutical firm).

    Regarding medication costs, I hope this bit of news comes to reality by the end of the year. Cheers!

    Reply

    • Lloyd,

      We too have years of experience with Pharex and have had no problems. In fact we often ask for Pharex. We don’t have any experience with RiteMed yet.

      Thanks also the news about senior citizen discounts for foreigners! I’ll admit that I’ll feel a bit uncomfortable getting the discounts when middle-age Filipinos I’m in line with don’t.

      Thanks again,

      Bob

      Reply

  3. Hi Bob. I am a little confused how you write a post on March 25, 2012 with the 4 posted comments all preceding your blog post. Am I viewing something wrong here? Curious.

    Reply

    • Randy,

      That’s a fair question! What I have been doing is updating the date of the post when I make significant corrections or additions to the original post. That’s how the comments can precede the post!

      Bob

      Reply

  4. I’m sorry , I totally disagree with what the 70% doctors said about generics. For 2 years now I have been taking generics such as propanol (which only cost .97 centavos from P11 per 10mg tablet ), warfarin (which cost only P20 from the P60 Coumadin per 5 mg tablet ) and other medicines and I observed the potency is just the same. For example my blood INR remains at stable values every month taking the warfarin generics. What also surprised me is taking a lower generic brand of ‘sartan’ plus the generic hydrochlorazide equivalent to my former Co Diovan had the same effect on my blood pressure maintained at 120/80 or even lower. I have worked with a big american pharmaceutical firm and now realized that they profited too much on the Filipino people. The reason our bonuses and benefits then where really outstanding. I’ve seen how the med reps showered known doctors with overseas trips or any that the world can give just to promote the product. I think it is high time for us to limit greed and instead work on the alleviation of poverty in the Philippines. U.S. is different because they got good insurances and free medicines for low income level group. Yet they prescribe generics w/out any brand name in the PX. Hope the frame of minds of our ‘best’ doctors change for the benefit of the ‘mang pandoy’ otherwise only those that can afford can survive this ‘money’ oriented world.

    Reply

    • Noel,

      Thanks for your report. Glad to hear that generics are working well for you. I too also take Philippine generics (mostly Pharex), except for a couple of drugs where there is no generic or where the affordable drugs legislation forced big price reductions, such as Lipitor. I have not had any problems. As I said in my post, I buy from Mercury in the hope that they make sure that counterfeit drugs don’t make themselves onto their shelves. That said, the international health authorities say that there are a lot of counterfeit drugs in Asia. Perhaps buying Philippine generics from Mercury is safer than buying brand name drugs from small mom-and-pop pharmacies.

      I do find some of the marketing by international drug companies in the Philippines to be greedy. I take the alpha-blocker doxozsin. I have not been able to find a generic, only a super expensive controlled release version from Pfizer.

      I qualify for Medicare in the U.S. For me, the cost of the Part D Medicare drug plan is more than what I pay for my drugs out of pocket in the Philippines. Even though most of my drugs are generic, I still pay about $125 per month for them. That’s OK for me but I know many Filipinos suffer and die because they can’t afford drugs. But then, I had a diabetic neighbor in New York who died rather than going to the emergency room because he knew he would run up a huge bill at the hospital if he went there. He lived with an elderly mother and he did not want to burden her.

      Bob
      http://

      Reply

    • I have taken Andros (Sildenafil – from Amherst Labs) to spectacular effect. Indeed, I’m told it performs even better than branded Sildenafil (Viagra).

      I have heard first hand from doctors in the Philippines how much they distrust generics. It really is unfortunate. If ever there was a country that absolutely needs low-cost alternatives and a physician class that recognizes the economic realities of most of the population, it is our beloved Philippines.

      Instead of caving in to Big Pharma, the government should champion testing and promotion of generic drugs.

      Reply

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