A second round of voluntary price cuts by drugmakers in the Philippines will be announced next week, Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral has stated.

More than 21 medicines could be affected, and they will include antibiotics, plus treatments for cancer and hypertension. Ms Cabral has also suggested that the new list could include a number of therapeutic classes which were not affected in the first round of price cuts, which took place last August.

No mandatory price reductions will be imposed on the new list until the Department of Health completes its assessment of the first round of price cuts, 16 of which were voluntary and five imposed, the Health Secretary added. This work is expected to be concluded this month or next.

The Department had asked drugmakers to submit their proposals for price reductions under the government-mediated access price (GMAP) scheme by January 22, and had stipulated that they should nominate their top-selling and most expensive products with little in the way of generic competition. On Monday (February 8) the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), which represents 51 domestic and international drugmakers in the country, confirmed that its member-companies had done so. However, the association added that it was calling on the government to find a “more sustainable” approach than price cuts to ensuring access to medicines and health care.

The PHAP estimates that the first round of price cuts caused the loss of 600 jobs in the industry, while Pfizer says that following the 50% price reductions imposed on five of its drugs under the maximum drug retail price (MDRP) scheme, it had to cut 300 sales jobs in the Philippines.

Earlier this month, PHAP executive director Reiner Gloor estimated that, as a result of the enabling legislation for the price cuts, the Cheaper Medicines Law, the Association’s member companies’ annual sales had plummeted 10 billion pesos.

However, the policy has been welcomed by a leading pediatric oncologist, who says that only 20% of child cancer patients in the Philippines survive - compared with as many as 80% in wealthier nations - because of high medicine costs and late diagnosis.

Early diagnosis is now being addressed in many hospitals but the cost of drugs remains a “big problem,” says Dr Julius Lecciones, medical director of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center.

The first round of price cuts last August meant that anticancer drugs worth 50 million pesos were able to be purchased for 13 million pesos, said Dr Lecciones, who added that cutting drug costs was “a pillar” in the goal of increasing the nation’s pediatric cancer cure rate from 20% to 50% within the next two to three years.

Around 3,500 new pediatric cancer cases are diagnosed each year in the Philippines, but currently only a third of patients are treated.