Pharma’s bid to redeem its reputation

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Pharma's bid to redeem its reputation 

Big Pharma has an image problem.

In the fall of 2019, it came in dead last in Gallup's annual poll asking people to rank 25 industries from best to worst. As Joe Nocera says in his Bloomberg Businessweek essay on the sector's current attempt at reputation damage control, "Even the federal government was ranked above the pharma business."

The race for a vaccine and therapies to mitigate the pandemic has given the likes of Gilead Sciences, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Moderna a chance to try to rehabilitate the very low expectations the public has of them. Many expect them to come up with the drugs—and then charge through the roof.

While companies have made altruistic noises about the price of their coming vaccines and drugs, Nocera notes there's already been a dust-up over Gilead's pricing of remdesivir—a drug that's been on its shelf for a while and had some efficacy at alleviating the illness. After providing it free for "compassionate use," the company received government permission to use remdesivir as a coronavirus treatment. So it had to put a price on it. In the end, that was $2,340 for a full dose of six vials for Covid sufferers in the developed world, $3,120 in the U.S. and much lower for poorer nations. Nocera points out that it was Gilead that chose to charge $84,000 for a full, three-month course of Sovaldi, its cure for hepatitis C, a disease ravaging much of the world. Still, as he writes, "critics weren't exactly jumping for joy."

That's because history has an example of real altruism. After he developed the first vaccine against polio, Jonas Salk was interviewed by Edward R. Murrow of CBS News in 1955. "Who owns the patent on this vaccine?" Murrow asked the scientist.

"Well, the people do," said Salk. "There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?"—Howard Chua-Eoan 

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