In the Philippines, the prices of at least 97 medicines to treat cancer, asthma and other common conditions will be reduced by 50% on average on March 31, saving patients at least 1 billion pesos ($22 million) a year, the government has said.

11 pharmaceutical manufacturers have agreed to cut their prices in this latest round of reductions, which will range from 14% to 72%.

The new round will bring the total number of medicines whose prices have fallen since last August to 200, accounting for around 12%-15% of the total market for essential drugs.

As well as cancer and asthma, the medicines included in the new round of cuts include treatments for hypertension, glaucoma, bladder and prostate conditions, hepatitis and mental health problems. They include a 50% price drop (from 202 pesos to 101 pesos per tablet) for Merck & Co/Schering-Plough’s cholesterol-lowerer Vytorin (ezetimibe and simvastatin), AstraZeneca’s cancer drug Zoladex (goserelin), which goes down from 10,400 pesos per 3.6mg injectable solution to 6,800 pesos, and the antihypertensive losartan, down from 43 pesos to 22 pesos.

The prices of some fluids for dialysis and other medical supplies will also be reduced, and older people will receive a further 20% discount on the prices of their medicines under the new Expanded Senior Citizens’ Law.

Most of the medicines involved are newer products, and which have disproportionately higher prices in the Philippines than elsewhere in the region, say government officials.

They point out that drug prices in the Philippines are the second-highest in Asia after Japan, with some costing as much as 45 times more than they do in India and Pakistan. The Department of Health is also looking at cutting the prices of cardiovascular medicines, while Senator Manuel Roxas, a sponsor of the Cheaper Medicines Law which enabled the price cuts, says the government now needs to increase medicines affordability and access by boosting domestic production of generics.

For the manufacturers, the Pharmaceutical and Health Care Association of the Philippines says its members are committed to increasing access to their medicines but is also calling for greater government spending on health care, pointing out that annual health expenditures account for just 3% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is below the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s recommended 5%.