It had seemed for a while that the headlines only reinforced the common public perception that the pharma industry had devolved into a snake pit of self-centered greed. Led by the Three Horsemen of the Pharmapocalypse, Shkreli, Pearson, and Bresch (there are numerous others less adept at getting themselves into the headlines), the corporate ethos has appeared to be one of soaking patients and insurors (the latter group constitutes its own black hole of amorality) to the maximum extent possible, sometimes to the point of extortion (see Mylan; Bresch; EpiPen; parents of vulnerable children). In an election year where the American Sport of Scapegoating has reached new depths, the search for nearterm gain has attracted the kind of attention that could set the stage for the imposition of governmental controls on an industry seemingly unable to govern itself.
On September 6, Allergan’s CEO Brent Saunders posted an eloquent and bold counterpoint to this theme and ethos, which is worth reading in its entirety:
The overriding message was that pharma/biotech exists within a larger ecosystem, and has an implicit obligation to work within that system in a way that fosters it, rather than undermining it. Specifically, as a statement that is a direct salvo against those for whom the only corporate mission involves the quarterly numbers, Saunders committed to restraining price increases, which “will be limited to single-digit percentage increases.” He made the implicit social contract explicit: “For our industry to remain a vibrant and important part of the healthcare ecosystem, Allergan commits to this social contract and I encourage others to formulate their own self-policing actions.”
We are now waiting to see if any of Saunders’ peers have the spinal strength to make similar commitments on behalf of their companies. This is not altruism, it is pragmatism: The pharma industry does not exist in an economic or ethical vacuum, and if we do not show the capacity for accountability and self-control, it will be imposed upon us, not a solution that will be optimal for the industry and its future growth.