Big Pharma: Saviors or Profiteers

This is clearly a very complex and controversial issue.  It is equally clear that big pharma, with considerable help from government, both financial and regulatory, has created an exceptional response to the dangers of Covid-19.  Development and distribution of the Covid-19 vaccines represent a constructive example of what can be achieved by public/private partnerships.

The most significant, and ultimately successful, public/private partnership in my experience, was the all-out mobilization and national effort during WWII.  It was messy, frequently controversial and dramatically changed many lives.  A few got very rich, some experienced significant career changes (Mrs. Cleaver became “Rosie the Riveter”) and too many never came home.

Despite lessons learned from the WWII experience, no one has come up with a solution to the problem of preparing for a future national emergency of unknown nature, timing or scope.  Public support for funding preparedness, particularly in a democracy, is limited, while public support for a robust response, when people are frightened, is almost unlimited.

This is not a new phenomenon, a few lines from Rudyard Kipling’s 1890 poem, “Tommy”, summarizing the plight of the British soldier in peace time, says it well.  “For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ Chuck him out, the brute!  But it’s “Savior of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot.”

All comments and suggestions are welcome.

Walter J. Kirchberger, CFA