Covid ‘drug’ price goes up due to stock shortage

By : Bobby Lagsa Mindanao Today/11:17:00am 09/09/2021


Residents from the eastern part of Cagayan de Oro City line up for their vaccination at the newly opened Cugman Elementary School vaccination site as the city government ramps up its vaccination rollout. (Bobby Lagsa | Mindanao Today)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – The price of the repurposed anti-inflammatory drug Tocilizumab, reported to be helpful to patients infected with the coronavirus, have rose 400 percent in the last three weeks from P25,000 per 400-milligram vial to a whopping P100,000, authorities revealed.

Tocilizumab is the second drug ever recommended by the World Health Organization for Covid-19 treatment after recommending Dexamethasone in September 2020.

It belongs to the class of drugs called monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), that are used in the treatment of various diseases including cancers, rheumatoid arthritis.

One Kagay-anon resident posted on Facebook saying that the Tocilizumab, one of the two medicines prescribed for his uncle hospitalized at Maria Reyna Xavier Hospital here is beyond their grasp as accessing two vials would cost them 200 thousand pesos.

A man told reporters in an interview that he has a relative admitted at the Northern Mindanao Medical Center (NMMC) who needed the medicine as the state-run hospital apparently ran out of stock on Sunday, September 5, prompting him to seek the drug elsewhere.

The Philippine’s Health Technology Assessment Council (HTAC) recommended to the Department of Health (DOH) on May 10, 2021, for emergency use of Remdesivir and Tocilizumab for various stages of medication for Covid-19 patients.

The lack of supplies of the drug that is solely manufactured by Roche, a Swiss pharmaceutical company, resulted in a global shortage of supply, leading to an imbalance of demand and supply.

Many cities across the country reported the skyrocketing price of the drug selling as much as P160,000 per 400 mg. vial.

Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Oscar Moreno said that he will raise to NMMC how effective Tocilizumab is and how important it is to Covid-19 positive patients.

Moreno warned that hoarding, artificial shortage, price manipulation of prime commodities are criminal activities punishable by law.

“If there is hoarding of prime commodities if you hoard and create a shortage artificially, then you have liabilities, that should not be done at this time, especially in this time of pandemic,” the mayor said.

“Hopefully the government will procure the medicines to stop these unscrupulous people,” he added.

City Health Officer Dr. Ted Yu said that there is indeed a global shortage of the drug not only in the Philippines but worldwide.

Yu added that the drug Tocilizumab is already part of the Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPG) for the use of Covid-19s infection.

“This was given an Emergency Use Authorization for this drug based on CPG in managing severe Covid-19 cases. That is why there is a shortage not only in the Philippines but worldwide,” Yu said.

Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, of the city’s 2nd district who’s also a Deputy House Speaker, said that people and distributor selling the drug above the suggested retail price (SRP) of P25,000 should be penalized by law.

“We should file cases against these individuals and distributors, they are violating the law,” Rodriguez said.

In a Laging Hand Briefing on Saturday, September 4, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that there are sanctions for those who violate the SRP especially during this pandemic.

“Violators will be penalized ranging from one year to 10 years of imprisonment and penalty from P5,000 to P1 million,” Vergeire said.

According toher, the supply shortage of Tocilizumab is expected to last until the end of this year, and that the DOH has a sourcing problem to access the drug.

The undersecretary said that the DOH has sought the assistance of the private sector in helping the government to get tocilizumab from other countries.

She added that the DOH is looking at the Baricitinib, a drug prescribed for persons with arthritis, as a substitute.

Meanwhile, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has called on Roche, the world’s sole producer of Tocilizumab, to lower the price of the drug to make it affordable and accessible for everyone who needs it, everywhere.

“Roche must end its monopoly and urgently share the know-how, master cell lines, and technology needed to produce this drug with other manufacturers across the world to ensure supply and improved access,” MSF said in a statement posted on its website.

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