Monday, May 18, 2009

"No good deed..."

You know the rest of that phrase. I'm going to wait and see who punishes Pfizer Inc. for the announcement I read in The New York Times on Monday. I'm sure people much smarter than I have already figured out why this is really nothing but underhanded trickery that will ultimately lead to little more than additional profits for Pfizer. The nerve.

Like auto companies and others that are empathetic toward consumers who have found themselves out of work and in trouble (or potentially) in trouble financially, Pfizer has made an offer to those who have lost their jobs as a result of our "troubled" economy. They announced a program, one that includes more than 70 of their most popular prescription drugs, which offers the medications free to people who have been taking them for three months or more and now find themselves without the means to continue filling their prescriptions. Consumers need to provide evidence that they have in fact been taking a particular Pfizer drug (or drugs) and proof that they have lost their jobs. The program is retroactive to January 1 of this year and will continue through December 31. Pfizer will continue to provide your necessary prescription drugs for up to twelve months after approval - or until a person becomes employed again. Which means it has the potential to be close to a 24-month program of free prescription drugs. During a downturned economy with no end in sight.

I won't go into all the details - just click on the Times link if you want more background. Suffice it to say, yes, of course there are financial benefits to Pfizer for enacting this program. Yes, they'll get tax credit for making these "donations" to consumers throughout the year. Yes, they'll be able to maintain their production capacity and, by the way, keep many, many people working, from their own employees to the bio-chemical companies and others that count Pfizer among their own customer lists.

All of these details will become the story for everyone who refuses to acknowledge an act of goodness. They'll scream the "what's in it for them" headline, not the "what's in it for the rest of us" news. Regardless of the strings attached or the inherent benefits to Pfizer, the bottom line is this. I'm sure they're rather sell these drugs than give them away. I'm positive about that. But as anyone in business will tell you, it's easier to keep a customer than find a new one. And when you're talking about possibly having to find millions of new customers who drop their prescriptions because they can no longer afford them, or who switch to a lower priced generic of your own name brand drug, that would be even more devastating to your bottom line than a program with built in tax breaks.

I'm going to wait and see who will be the first person to shine a degrading light on this program. Yes: it will gain Pfizer headlines and publicity. Yes: it will give them tax breaks. But it will also provide necessary prescriptions to millions of Americans in a time of need. And for that, they have earned high marks from me.

It seems drug companies are in the headlines when one of their products gets recalled, or otherwise questioned for its efficacy or side effects. As someone who has worked with several large drug companies over the course of my career, I have nothing but respect for the difficult, extraordinarily expensive and important work pharmaceutical companies do. The people I've met in any number of companies are committed to patient care and making strides against numerous diseases and conditions.

Are they profitable? Yes. Is there such a thing as "too profitable?" I don't know. I do know it costs many, many millions of dollars to get a drug as far as the clinical trials phase, and millions and millions to get a drug not nearly that far in it's design cycle. That un-usable formula falls clearly into the COGs line: cost of goods. Even if those goods never even reach the market. Too bad for you. Back to the lab and try again. You still owe the scientists and researchers their salaries, even if their drug didn't make it to the shelves.

Drug companies invest in research so they can come up with the next "new" thing. Or with the next improved formula. Their reward is a period of exclusivity for sales, before other companies can create and market generic versions, piggybacked on their initial R & D.

But let's wait and see, shall we? Let's see who give a shout out to Pfizer for their efforts to help customers through a difficult time. I have a feeling the silence will be overwhelming.

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