english.prescrire.org > Positions > Corporate behaviour > Stock market and society: conflicting values

Theme: Corporate behaviour

Pharmaceutical companies are in the business of making money. Shareholders demand it, and managers’ jobs depend upon it. Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly obsessed with the bottom line. Their behaviour all too often shows it. 

Stock market and society: conflicting values

Since they are both vital components of human health and industrial commodities, drugs are governed by sometimes contradictory principles and values. Patients and practitioners should keep this in mind in order to defend their own priorities.

The behaviour of the pharmaceutical company Abbott has come in for criticism several times in recent years. In 2003, Abbott increased the price of one of its AIDS drugs fivefold. There was indignation too, in March 2007, when Abbott announced that it would no longer market its new drugs in Thailand, in retaliation for the Thai government's decision to apply internationally recognised legal flexibility and to issue compulsory licences on a drug patented by Abbott. More protests came in May 2007, when Abbott filed a lawsuit against Act Up-Paris, threatening the AIDS advocacy group with 70,000 euros in fines for having shut down the company's website for a few hours in support of the Thai AIDS patients' protest. And finally moral outrage in August 2007, when Abbott was found to have deleted negative information about two of its drugs from the Wikipedia website.

But the stock market remained unmoved by this misbehaviour. In 2007, Abbott was named for the third year in a row by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index "for its continued leadership in business, environmental and social performance" – even though these criteria are supposed to take specific account of the company's behaviour with regard to access to drugs.

Clearly, financial markets and pharmaceutical companies do not follow the same value system as health professionals and patients. Patients and practitioners should keep this in mind in order to defend their own priorities.

©Prescrire 2008

Source: "Choc des valeurs" Rev Prescrire 2008; 28 (291): 61.