from the just-because-you-don't-look,-doesn't-mean-it's-not-there dept
Yesterday afternoon, the twitter feed for “LillyPad,” which is Eli Lilly’s “policy” blog and Twitter feed, excitedly tweeted out a quote from Stefan Oschmann, an executive at pharmaceutical competitor Merck, who was just elected as the new head of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA) — basically, the big pro-pharma lobbying group. The tweet is no longer there, because LillyPad deleted it, but here’s a screenshot I took apparently seconds before it disappeared:
As you can see, they’re quoting Oschmann insisting that “there is zero evidence that intellectual property is a hindrance to access to medicines.” Almost immediately, you can see that nearly all of the responses started pointing to… um… evidence of how patents are a hindrance to access to medicine. Here’s an OxFam paper and a massive paper from Medicins San Frontieres (MSF) Access Campaign, which focuses specifically on improving access to life-saving medicines. Lots of other comments were just mocking the claim, with some asking if Lilly was going to post a correction.
Perhaps recognizing just how ridiculous the whole thing looked, Lilly went with option “pretend it never happened” and deleted the tweet. What might have been better and more productive would have been to come out and admit that the statement was bullshit and that there are legitimate concerns about how patents can hold back access to medicine. An intellectually honest organization might then try to kick off a discussion about the different issues and the tradeoffs, recognizing that patents clearly do harm access, but potentially could also create incentives that lead to new drug creation (this is the standard claim, anyway, though some are skeptical of that as well).
But it appears that Eli Lilly (and IFPMA) have no interest in being intellectually honest or having such a discussion. No, they’ve decided to stick to the ridiculous and bogus corporate line that patents are all butterflies and roses, and do no harm at all. What a wasted opportunity — even if it helped show the true colors of the current leadership of the pharmaceutical industry.
And it’s even more ridiculous that this all took place at an IFPMA event where “global health” was the key topic, and they talked about “inclusiveness” and “sustainability” along with transparency. But, in the end that’s all clearly buzzwords and smoke screens, because when its new boss makes a stupid, clearly incorrect statement that shows what the industry is all about, the message gets hidden and there’s no discussion or transparency at all. For shame.
As for Dr. Oschmann, seeing as he’s a long-term Merck exec, he’d do well to remember the words of George Merck, from nearly a century ago:
We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been.
It appears that sentiment has long since been beaten out of Merck.