MANILA, Philippines—The Philippines has become one of the centers for clinical trials for new medicines in the Asia-Pacific region, providing indigent patients with access to cutting-edge medical treatment, according to members of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO).
Doctor Ellie May Villegas, PSMO vice-president, said drug companies said more and more clinical trials were being conducted in the country “because of the credibility of tests” conducted here and because some medicines have turned out to be effective only on Asians.
She said the new drugs that have been clinically tested in the country include those intended for lung cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer, with drug companies spending at least P2 million on the medication of each patient who participates in a trial that can last for two years.
“They’re very happy with the results because our results are not bogus. We really do the trials well,” Villegas said in an interview.
Besides drug companies, the European Medicines Agency and the National Institutes of Health of the United States also sponsor these clinical trials.
Such trials have become more common in the last five years, she said.
Villegas dismissed suggestions that these clinical trials were taking advantage of indigent patients who have no money for medicines.
“No, being poor is not a factor here. I have many patients who are millionaires and I also offer these to them. A patient is admitted to the clinical trial only if or she meets the criteria for that particular trial,” Villegas said.
Doctor Annielyn Ong-Cornel, a PSMO fellow, said the clinical trials do help patients who cannot afford medication.
Access to good meds
“There are many patients who are willing to be included because it gives you access to good medication and cutting edge science,” said Cornel, who has participated in 25 clinical trials since 2007.
“They started coming in 2005 because we are now seeing that people in different countries respond differently to the same medicine. The lung cancer of an Asian is different from that of a Caucasian,” Cornel said.
She said Asians are more responsive to some medications compared to Caucasians “or there are more side effects.”
“It’s all boils down to genetics. For example, treatment for lung cancer used to be uniform but nowadays, you have to do genetic testing for specific protein abnormalities in the cancer. And you have certain medications which target that abnormality,” Cornel said.
“We have a tablet that targets one specific genetic abnormality. If you have lung cancer, and you are positive for that (genetic mutation), then there is a bigger chance that you would respond (positively) to the tablet. If you don’t have that mutation, there is no response,” she added.
Cornel said patients who want to join a clinical trial are also thoroughly briefed before they are admitted.
“They are informed about the side effects, that they can quit any time, and that the data obtained would be used for scientific purposes. They usually discuss this with their families before they say yes or no,” Cornel added.