DOH set to probe pharma firm

Rhodina Villanueva - The Philippine Star
DOH set to probe pharma firm
File photo shows the Department of Health central office in Manila.
BusinessWorld file photo

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Health (DOH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) are set to conduct an investigation on the alleged unethical practices of a local pharmaceutical company owned by physicians.

The DOH, through its public health ethics committee and the FDA, as well as the PRC agreed to form a joint committee for investigation (JCI), to which they will also invite the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“The JCI will help reduce redundancy and expedite due process requirements regarding the many allegations aired at the Senate hearing, ensuring that the integrity of the medical profession is protected while holding accountable those found to have violated pertinent laws, rules, and regulations,” the DOH said in a statement.

It added that the JCI will also be seeking inputs and comments from professional bodies like the Philippine Medical Association (PMA), Philippine Pharmacists Association and Philippine Hospital Association (PHA).

“Legal advisers of the JCI are also looking into possible mechanisms to protect whistleblowers so that they may provide actionable information and evidence,” said the DOH.

This developed after the Senate on April 30 conducted a hearing on the alleged unethical marketing practices by Bell-Kenz Pharmaceutical Inc. that is being run by physicians.

Immediately after that, Health Secretary Ted Herbosa led a coordination meeting with regulatory and professional bodies. Present were FDA director-general Samuel Zacate and PRC Board of Medicine chairperson Zenaida Antonio. Also in attendance as resource organizations were the PMA, through its Commission on Ethics, and the PHA.

The DOH also urged the public, particularly those who have information that may help the investigation, to contact the FDA Field Regulatory Operations Office.

Meanwhile, the legal counsel of Bell-Kenz Pharma Inc. said there is nothing unethical in what the company is doing.

“What they are doing is not unethical. The doctors’ prescription is based on laboratory tests and (clinical) assessments and financial or personal interest has never been considered,” lawyer Dez Perlez said in a radio interview on Friday.

“We don’t see anything unethical in prescribing (to patients) effective branded medicines that are affordable,” Perlez said, stressing that Bell-Kenz’s doctors always prescribe generic medicines first.

“However, based on their assessment of the patient’s condition, they can also recommend medicines from Bell-Kenz. Never did they prescribe it if it is not what the patient needs knowing it will affect the patient’s health,” she pointed out.

At the same time, Perlez denied that the doctors involved are receiving commission and that Bell-Kenz is giving out luxurious gifts such as Rolex watches and expensive cars to these doctors.

“The only thing that the company is providing these doctors is support to their continuing medical education. They sponsor workshops or trips abroad for them,” she said.

Perlez noted that Bell-Kenz has been sourcing its medicines internationally, particularly from countries that passed the European medicines agency.

“Our medicines are 30 percent cheaper compared to other branded medicines and it has the same or even higher quality,” she added.

“Since they (Bell-Kenz) entered the industry, the average price of meds dropped, other companies were forced to drop their prices, especially multinational companies…It’s not unethical, if you are the doctor, there is nothing wrong if you support the medicines you trust,” Perlez said over dzBB.

Perlez said the company welcomes any form of investigation on the issue.

“In that way, we will be provided a platform wherein we can clear the name of Bell-Kenz and at the same time, inform the public that we have affordable and high-quality branded medicines,” she added.

Meanwhile, the Senate Blue Ribbon committee is set to take over the investigation into the alleged practice of pharmaceutical companies giving rebates of up to P2 million, luxury cars, travel and other perks to doctors who prescribe the firm’s medicines.

In a message with Senate reporters via Viber, Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva confirmed that the Blue Ribbon committee chaired by Sen. Pia Cayetano will be taking over the probe, which was initially presided over by the Senate committee on health under Sen. Bong Go, as agreed by the senators during a caucus. — Cecille Suerte Felipe

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