The medical profession is well respected, and this is no surprise because the entire field of study is dedicated to the preservation of life. Medical professionals take their role so seriously physicians even traditionally agree to the Hippocratic Oath, a time-honored guideline which essentially is a commitment that they will not cause any harm to life.
Other members of the medical community are not as big on ethics, specifically the pharmaceutical industry. In 2015, Martin Shrekeli made this shockingly clear when he hiked the price of one critical drug used by HIV patients by 5000% and neither law, the public outrage nor the social responsibility could influence him to reverse his decision. His decision exposed just how vulnerable the average citizen was to Big Pharma. The reality is that the size of these companies makes their influence wide enough to dictate government policy through lobbying.
Shrekeli’s actions become even more of a warning when one realizes that the pharmaceutical industry is a beneficiary of publicly sourced funding for medical research. The overall approach of the industry players, who are only driven by profit and share-holder interest, is absolutely indefensible.
This is even more unconscionable when you realize that most of the world’s drugs are produced by a handful of manufacturers. These manufacturers include Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer in the U.S., the Swiss company Roche and the French company Sanofi.
One of the issues of public concern is the fact that at times the companies conceal negative results of their clinical trials, which means that when the drugs go on to market, unsuspecting users are subject to their detrimental side effects.
An example of this is the epilepsy drug Depakine which triggered a scandal in Europe since it caused developmental delays in children whose mothers took the drug while they were pregnant. In this case, it took more than a decade for the company to be subjected to legal repercussions and patients were informed of the side-effects on the packaging.
Another questionable ethical dilemma is the approach pharma companies take when break-through drugs prove to be useful treatment in cases unrelated to what they were originally designed for. It is found that the public interest is not always prioritized since it is usually more beneficial to pursue the sale of the more specific and typically more expensive option.
Managing Big Pharma is a complex international problem since each government will also look out for the best interest of their national companies in the global marketplace. This doc would be interesting for anyone interested in public health, especially in light of the very current global pandemic.
Directed by: Luc Hermann, Claire Lasko