harmaceutical manufacturers have begun voluntarily offering the Philippines government price cuts on more of their products, as it is announced that further reductions are likely to be sought.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque said yesterday that the list of 21 essential medicines whose prices were reduced by 50% this week - 16 through voluntary compliance by the manufacturers and five through an Executive Order signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo - will be reviewed after three months to see if the prices of further drugs also need to be halved.

Yesterday it was reported that, so far, offers of price cuts had been made on at least 20 other medicines, ranging from 10% to 50%.

Dr Roberto So, programme manager at the Department of Health’s drug policy unit, said that the offers had been received relating to a range of products, including insulin and the breast cancer treatment tamoxifen. However, he added, these would not be accepted automatically, because health officials are proposing to set maximum retail prices based on a range of indicators, including prices abroad, the discounts which are available to consumers through manufacturers’ card schemes and five-year price trends based on the entry pricing levels of generics.

The list will be produced soon, said Dr So, and he hoped that more companies would offer voluntary price reductions.

According to Health Sec Duque, the original 21 products on which the 50% price cut was sought were selected because they: - were the most expensive but most essential drugs on the market; - have no generic competitors; - cost four to five times more in the Philippines than in other markets; and - address serious and widespread medical problems such as asthma, cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and infections.

These reductions will take effect on August 15. Industry spokesmen are forecasting that they will reduce sales on the national market by anywhere between $145 million and $208 million and will do great harm to foreign investment opportunities in the country. Observers also note that the Philippines is one of the few countries in Asia to impose a levy on drug sales, and are calling on the government to abolish this tax.

Drugstores will have one month to apply the price caps; calls from smaller businesses for a three-month deadline for compliance have been rejected by the government.