Recently, I was having a good debate with friends on why pharmaceutical companies have been portrayed in a negative light. Regardless of their motive, pharmaceutical companies work for the greater good of human health. Today we are living longer lives and are making greater strides at curing human ills such cancer, hepatitis, malaria and MS. Thanks to the innovations performed in the laboratories of these companies, we know more about the human body and how it works than at any point in previous human history. But there is one factor that you can never remove regardless of how much innovation and cures are brought to society. That human element is GREED.
This is the one human trait that can defeat all the good work a pharmaceutical company can do. Greed is embedded in our DNA and is part of our survival mode. It has been around since the stone age. Many laws are written to try and prevent it but Greed finds a way to thrive.
Greed comes in many forms and can exist from the janitor all the way up to a CEO. Of course the CEO position is much more visible and therefore sets the tone for the image perceived by that pharmaceutical company. No matter how much good a pharmaceutical company does, if the CEO is seen as being excessively paid, the Greed brand ensues.
The pharmaceutical company exists to generate profits from drug discoveries. They don’t create drugs to help patients because it is the right thing to do. They create drugs to help patients and get a return on their investment. Those profits fuel more drug innovation. The pharmaceutical industry is also a large employer of highly scientifically technical experts. It takes a large sum of money to maintain this workforce and in turn, they have to be able to generate a profit for the company.
What is the Right Thing?
In my conversation with friends, we all talked hypothetically about what is the right thing for a pharmaceutical company to do. One of the suggestions was for billionaires who want to donate their inheritance should instead buy up the stock of a pharmaceutical company and in turn demand that patients come ahead of profits. In theory this is an excellent gesture towards humanity. In actuality, a billionaire didn’t get there by doing charity work. My argument was that if that happened, the status quo would ensue. Drug development would actually take longer since there would be no sense of urgency. Risk taking would also diminish which can be both good and bad. To a degree, Greed drives development.
What ideas do you have?