The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic showed the importance of public-private partnerships (PPPs). On a global level, partnerships have resulted in the development and manufacture of diagnostics, vaccines and medicines for COVID-19. At the national level, partnerships allowed vaccines to reach the farthest municipalities and towns.
National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Dr. Arsenio M. Balisacan said that through PPPs, the government seeks to tap the private sector’s capacity to provide resources and expertise, as well as ability to undertake projects of significant scale in recognition of the country’s fiscal constraints.
During a luncheon meeting with the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Mr. Balisacan highlighted the crucial role of the private sector in the government’s strategy to achieve its medium-term macroeconomic targets. These priorities are outlined in the Marcos administration’s eight-point socioeconomic agenda, which is the framework that will anchor the 2023–2028 Philippine Development Plan.
“We will utilize PPPs to address the binding constraints to more and higher-quality job creation in the present and future growth drivers, such as the manufacturing, tourism, IT-BPOs [information technology-business process outsourcing], and creative sectors. They will be a significant contributor to the upgrade of the country’s energy, logistics, transportation, telecommunications, and water infrastructure,” he said.
Since the pandemic, the research-based biopharmaceutical industry has been working with the government in its COVID-19 response in four ways: through the research and development of safe and effective diagnostics, medicines and vaccines; ensuring the continued supply of medicines and vaccines despite major challenges; cascading verified health information to the public; and supporting healthcare workers and communities impacted by the pandemic.
Early dialogue and collaborative efforts proved invaluable in our pandemic response. With the same approach, the industry commits to working with the government to foster innovation. President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., recently announced that there will be no more lockdowns. If we were to realize the President’s directive, it is imperative that we strengthen our healthcare system, and work more closely together towards a resilient pharmaceutical system that uses innovation from research and development (R&D) and all throughout the supply chain.
Another lesson is that we need to embrace innovation. The country is currently an active participant in the conduct of clinical trials, and we are eager to partner to see more of these R&D activities in the Philippines. In terms of the number of clinical trials, one study noted that the Philippines is third in the list following Singapore and Thailand. When we participate in global clinical trials, we are creating early access to innovation, bringing in major investments, and building the scientific capacity of fellow Filipinos to pursue pharmaceutical R&D.
Years of investment in R&D — even in the face of costly failures — laid the groundwork for shortened development timelines for COVID-19 diagnostics, vaccines and treatments. The Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) is eager to work with NEDA and the government in transforming the Philippines as a regional hub for biopharmaceutical excellence.
The industry shares the goal of the government to ignite competition in the industry as the primary means to lower medicine prices. The market dominance of generics by volume to date is driving medicine prices down and providing a broad price range and treatment options to government, physicians, and patients. The dominance of generics — at almost 80% of the prescription market by volume — is evidence that there is competition in the industry.
Mechanisms to encourage further competition to reduce medicine prices are also in place under the Universal Health Care Act and the National Integrated Cancer Control Act. Price negotiation, pooled procurement, and private sector partnership are mechanisms that must be implemented to drive medicine prices down.
It is important to note that countries with low medicine prices employ a single-payer system where the government negotiates and purchases on behalf of their people. A single payer system is not a mere shifting of the responsibility to the government but a strategy to maximize the economies of scale alongside negotiations.
Given the lessons from the pandemic, open collaboration between the public and private sector can help save more lives and eventually kickstart and sustain economic recovery.
Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), which represents the biopharmaceutical medicines and vaccines industry in the country. Its members are at the forefront of research and development efforts for COVID-19 and other diseases that affect Filipinos.