CSR and Pharmaceuticals – Part 2

CSR and Pharmaceuticals:

Big Pharma on Trial – Part 2

Blog by Wayne Visser

It is nearly ten years later and the pharmaceutical companies are still trying to rebuild their reputations. As Mail & Guardian journalist Qudsiya Karrim reported for Inside Story in 2010: The past decade has been a public relations nightmare for big pharmaceutical companies – and deservedly so, their critics say. Activists and nongovernment organizations the world over have slated Big Pharma for putting profits ahead of people and vigorously enforcing their intellectual property rights, preventing many from gaining access to life-saving medication. It’s an ugly story told repeatedly – in the media, over dinner, at AIDS conferences and during university seminars – and it has earned the pharmaceutical industry an unmatched notoriety.

But have they learned their lesson? The latest and possibly most responsive action has been from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Early in 2009, CEO Andrew Witty announced a major reform in their corporate policy on drug affordability and accessibility. In particular, he said GSK will cut its prices for all drugs in the 50 least developed countries to no more than 25% of the levels in the UK and US – and less if possible – and make drugs more affordable in middle-income countries such as Brazil and India. In addition, GSK will reinvest 20% of any profits it makes in the least developed countries in hospitals, clinics and staff and invite scientists from other companies, NGOs or governments to join the hunt for tropical disease treatments at its dedicated institute at Tres Cantos, Spain.

Many NGOs remain sceptical. Michelle Childs, director of policy and advocacy for Medecins Sans Frontieres, says that in China, GSK charges over $3,000 for the antiretroviral Lamivudine in the absence of generic competition, while in Thailand, by comparison, another pharmaceutical company, Abbott, offers the Lopinavir/Ritonavir co-formulation for $500. And as for reinvesting profits, Catherine Tomlinson of the Treatment Action Campaign says, ‘Wouldn’t it simply be better to slash profits and allow for countries themselves to invest in improving health infrastructure? The GSK argument is circular: We charge so much money so that we can give you some of your own money back!’

The most interesting and radical move, however, is that Witty committed GSK to put any chemicals or processes over which it has intellectual property rights that are relevant to finding drugs for neglected diseases into a ‘patent pool’, so they can be explored by other researchers. Explaining this move, Witty said, ‘I think it’s the first time anybody’s really come out and said we’re prepared to start talking to people about pooling our patents to try to facilitate innovation in areas where, so far, there hasn’t been much progress.’ He went on to say …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”download” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/blog_pharma2_wvisser.pdf”]Pdf[/button] CSR & Pharmaceuticals – Part 2 (blog)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

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Visser, W. (2011) CSR & Pharmaceuticals: Big Pharma on Trial – Part 2, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 8 June 2011.

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CSR and Pharmaceuticals – Part 1

CSR and Pharmaceuticals:

Big Pharma on Trial – Part 1

Blog by Wayne Visser

Let’s take a look at one of the biggest crises the world still faces: HIV/AIDS. According to the November 2009 UNAIDS report, more than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981. The number of people living with HIV has risen from around 8 million in 1990 to 33 million today, and is still growing. Around 67% of people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa and Africa has over 14 million AIDS orphans. At the end of 2008, women accounted for 50% of all adults living with HIV worldwide. In developing and transitional countries, 9.5 million people are in immediate need of life-saving AIDS drugs; of these, only 4 million (42%) are receiving the drugs.

The topic of drugs presents a good case study in responsiveness (and the lack thereof). In 2001, Oxfam launched a campaign called ‘Cut the Cost’, challenging the pharmaceutical industry to address responsible drug pricing. In the same year, the Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla cut the annual price of anti-retroviral AIDS drugs to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) to $350, as compared with the global industry standard of $1,000, and the Western market price of $10,400. Cipla also announced its intention to allow the South African government to sell eight of its generic AIDS drugs, the patents for which were held by other companies.

MSF put pressure on the five major pharmaceutical companies involved in the UNAIDS Accelerating Access Initiative to match Cipla’s benchmark. And to some extent, they responded. Merck cut the price of its HIV/AIDS treatments for developing countries, including offering Crixivan at $600 and Stocrin at $500. Pfizer offered to supply antifungal medicine at no charge to HIV/AIDS patients in 50 AIDS stricken countries.

Bristol-Myers Squibb announced that it would not prevent generic-drug makers from selling low-cost versions of one of its HIV drugs (Zerit) in Africa. And Glaxo-SmithKline granted a voluntary licence to South African generics producer Aspen, allowing them to share the rights to GSK’s drugs (AZT, 3TC and Combivir) without charge.

So far so good. Apparently the drug companies are quite responsive. Why then, in 2001 (at the same time that they were doing all these good things), did 39 of the largest international pharmaceutical companies take the South African government to court over plans to introduce legislation aimed at easing access to AIDS drugs, arguing that it would infringe their patents and contravene the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement? Justin Forsyth, Oxfam Policy Director, said at the time, ‘This court case demonstrates how powerful drug companies are bullying poor countries just so they can protect their patent rights on lifesaving medicines.’

The pharmaceutical companies quickly realized that they had created a monster. Tens of thousands of people marched in protest all over the world, and 300,000 people from over 130 countries signed a petition against the action. Eventually, following public pressure, as well as pressure from the South African government and the European Parliament, Big Pharma dropped the case …

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[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”download” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/blog_pharma1_wvisser.pdf”]Pdf[/button] CSR & Pharmaceuticals – Part 1 (blog)

Related websites

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.waynevisser.com/books/the-age-of-responsibility”]Link[/button] The Age of Responsibility (book)

[button size=”small” color=”blue” style=”tick” new_window=”false” link=”http://www.csrinternational.org”]Link[/button] CSR International (website)

Cite this blog

Visser, W. (2011) CSR & Pharmaceuticals: Big Pharma on Trial – Part 1, Wayne Visser Blog Briefing, 3 June 2011.

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