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#ISAngKilosBayan: A mission for all medical innovations

Standing at the junction of the healthcare ecosystem, the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines bridges life-saving medical innovations and the many people who need them.

Going into the field of medical research and innovation takes you on a deep dive into the vast sea of science. For some individuals, their scientific curiosity and skill of inquiry calls on them to be explorers and guardians of this sea. We know them as gifted scientists and researchers. Meanwhile, many of us can only await the results of their pursuits from the surface. Such is the extent of the public’s interaction with medical science. Though seemingly simple, this relationship serves as a steady anchor for scientific pursuits; a reminder to hold in the highest regard the wellbeing of the people.

While the sea of science is globally shared, not all surfaces above were created equal. Thus, safeguarding human lives also entails awareness of the health systems and issues surrounding people’s access to medicine — even more so as society at large currently faces a widespread health crisis due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. In the Philippines, one organization turns this reminder into a firm mission. This organization is the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP).

PHAP President Beaver Tamesis facilitates the signing of new co-signatories for the Consensus Framework for Ethical Collaboration during ISA’s June 2019 Public Governance Forum.

The daily practice

PHAP represents the research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare sector in the country. Its member companies, both local and global, are the trusted providers of quality and life-saving medicines in the Philippines today. PHAP works with the Department of Health (DOH) to deliver quality medicines, provide patient support programs, and strengthen the overall local health system. In a country that has yet to achieve universal healthcare, this organization stands in a unique position to make quality healthcare accessible to all Filipinos.

PHAP’s daily practice is guided by the Consensus Framework for Ethical Collaboration. Initially formed by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) in Geneva, Switzerland, the Framework made its way to the Asia Pacific and was picked up by PHAP in November 2018 for local adoption.

“What the framework aims to do is to ensure that the relationship between patients, healthcare professionals, pharmaceutical sector and their organizations, is based on ethical and responsible decision-making,” explained PHAP Executive Director Teodoro Padilla. The Framework has four principles: (1) Put patients first; (2) Support ethical research and innovation; (3) Ensure independence and ethical conduct; and (4) Promote transparency and accountability.

From left to right: ISA CEO Leonardo Berba stands with PHAP Executive Director Teodoro Padilla. They are joined by the Chiefs of Bataan General Hospital & Medical Center, and Dr. Paulino J. Garcia Memorial Research and Medical Center (co-signatories of the Consensus Framework), and PHAP’s Director for Health Care Policy, Daisy Cembrano.

Currently, PHAP is developing a local version of this together with the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA), to grow its pool of co-signatories. Among the pool are various associations of medical professionals, as well as hospitals and medical centers. To complement ISA’s active interventions with public hospitals, PHAP also aims to integrate the Framework into ISA’s Performance Governance System (PGS) to create “more holistic and deeper reforms in the public institutions.”

“ISA is a very strong advocacy in terms of governance. It ties in very well with our promotion of ethics and accountability. I think that’s where ISA’s true strength comes in, and that’s what excites us about this collaboration,” expressed Exec. Director Padilla.

A test of agility

While these initiatives were in the works, however, a massive health crisis shook the globe beginning the early months of 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and affected the lives of many, it became a test of agility and resourcefulness for PHAP and its member companies who were forced to adapt to the sudden changes in the health systems and public order.

“We’re deeply concerned by COVID-19 because of its huge impact on health and the economy. We recognized that unprecedented measures are needed in this extraordinary time,” said Exec. Director Padilla.

With a duty to provide life-saving medicines to Filipinos, PHAP primarily became occupied with ensuring that the supply of medicine and vaccines for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 cases remained uninterrupted. This, according to Exec. Director Padilla, proved to be a real challenge due to the imposed travel restrictions. 

PHAP’s social responsibility arm, PHAPCares Foundation, delivers personal protective equipment to the medical workers of San Lazaro Hospital amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since the lockdown conditions were not just in the Philippines but [also] globally, we see many cases where suppliers and supplies are being held back from arriving in the country because [they] can only take off if there are flights,” he recounted. 

Hence, PHAP has been working to navigate through the community quarantine restrictions to continue the delivery of essential medical supplies and tools from its members.

The long-term quest

Outside of these operations, Exec. Director Padilla shared that the organization, along with its members, is undertaking a long-term quest to find a COVID-19 vaccine. True to the principles of the Framework, this initiative has sparked widespread collaboration among the local and global players in the biopharmaceutical industry. 

With decades of experience working on medical solutions against other infectious diseases such as MERS, SARS, and Ebola, the biopharmaceutical industry has all eyes on them as they attempt to come up with a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As for PHAP and its members, numerous research and development efforts began rolling out in three major aspects: Diagnostics, Treatment Development, and Vaccine Development.

On Diagnostics, Exec. Director Padilla shared that various groups have increased the production of testing kits to cater to the high demand across different countries. On Treatment Development, a number of existing treatments are already being tweaked and tested for combating COVID-19. He also highlighted that PHAP’s members have entered into a new level of collaborative research, as pharmaceutical groups began opening the doors of their knowledge banks to other pharmaceutical companies in order to coordinate research plans and progress. 

The International Federation of  Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), of which PHAP is a member, conducts a virtual press briefing on the global response of top pharmaceutical groups in response to COVID-19.

“Many of our members are working not just by themselves but in collaboration with other companies across continents. It’s a huge, massive collaborative effort—quite unprecedented in fact—to come up with a vaccine,” shared Exec. Director Padilla. 

Given how resource-intensive vaccine development is, it would take many months before a COVID-19 cure is made available to the public. Even so, PHAP finds hope in the power of collaboration among the many companies actively pursuing the task. 

“Typically, only approximately one in ten experimental vaccines make it all the way through to regulatory approval. Therefore, the more companies taking different approaches to find a vaccine, the more ‘shots on goal’ and significantly greater chances of success,” stated PHAP. 

Much awaited success

This success is much awaited not only by one country but by an entire global community; and even after this, the mission is far from over. This difficult period has only made the country’s long-time struggle for accessible quality healthcare even more urgent. 

For the biopharmaceutical industry, this stands as a reminder that while medical innovations may soar, in the end, the greater impact of it lies in the lives safeguarded and cared for. Organizations like PHAP make this impact achievable by meeting people where they are, and anchoring the healthcare system towards their welfare. This is the Consensus Framework put into practice.

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