Blind Ambition

Pharmaceutical companies invest a lot of money in the research and development of new drugs. That’s true. And, it is also true that the past decade or so has seen a dramatic rise in the dollars they spend on marketing drugs, making small tweaks to existing drugs in order to extend their patents, contributing money to officials who have legislative oversight of patent laws, developing relationships with doctors who are in a position to review and promote drugs, and instituting legal action to protect patents and other measures needed to protect their drugs.

Unfortunately, Big Pharma too often also report money spent on these latter efforts as part of the ‘investment needed for new drugs’ — thereby, overstating such investments. Meanwhile, company after company have also drunk deeply from the well of shareholder value extremism — the ideology that dictates that the single, maniacal objective of all the people who work in these companies is the creation of shareholder value, mainly through making profits their singular obsession.

Do people who work in Big Pharma care about the health and well being of others? Yes, of course. Do those values hold equivalent concern and weight as the pursuit of profits and shareholder value? No. Not if we look to the actual behavior of Big Pharma companies — of which, this latest effort from Genentech to block the use of one of it’s existting drugs that can help prevent blindness by substituting that cure with one that is one hundred times higher in price in order to insure profits is but the latest example. One hundred times. Not ten times higher. One hundred.

One imagines there are debates among the thick we’s who work at companies like Genentech. It’s frankly unimaginabe that 100% of the executives and employees agree with the extortionate policy that seems to be emerging here.

Still, when every single one of those executives and employees sit down to dinner tonight, they will need to explain to their families and friends why, at Genentech, the pursuit of value trumps the pursuit of all values — including but not limited to profits — in how they — the thick we of Genentech — define and pursue their common good.

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