The largest pharmaceutical companies from around the world have been responsible for a myriad of breakthroughs that have helped to improve health and extend lifespans. Big names such as Eli Lilly & Company, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Roche have produced drugs that people across the world use every day. However, their efforts have not always been altruistic, and they have known for wielding whatever power is necessary to secure their billions of dollars in profit each year through whatever means is necessary.
Gaming Washington, D.C.
Big Pharma has long played its own game in Washington, D.C. As research expanded after World War II, pharmaceutical manufacturers allied itself with universities and medical schools to ensure that they had free rein to find innovative methods to create new drugs for the country’s growing population. Legislators were more than happy to oblige this industry that promised to revolutionize medicine in the 20th century. When activists began to question the industry’s methods in the 1960s and 70s, Big Pharma had all the resources they needed to withstand the demands for reform.
Over the past ten years, the 11 largest drug manufacturers from around the world have accumulated $711 billion in profits. The advocacy group Healthcare For America Now credits much of this amount with the pharmaceutical companies’ ability to prevent drug price controls in government programs such as Medicare. The United States continues to be the feeding ground for large pharmaceutical companies, and patients in the U.S. pay 40 percent more per capita than patients in Canada, and 75 percent higher prices than in Japan, as well as 3 times what patients pay for their medications in Denmark.
Global Power Players
Pharmaceutical companies wield a similar breadth of power on the world stage. The inventions of new drugs are a point of pride for the governments where these companies call home. British drug maker, AstraZeneca is based in London, England. Roche is headquartered in Basel, Switzerland. Sanofi is headquartered in Paris, France. Daiichi Sankyo is headquartered in Tokyo, Japan. Most of these companies have a national headquarters in individual countries, with lobbyists that ensure that the companies’ interests are always considered in legislation and policy. In developing nations, drug manufacturers have considerable power due to their charitable activities, donating drugs that help to control important diseases in a number of countries. However, investigations have uncovered several incidents of medication donations past their expiration dates and populations being experimented on without their knowledge, questions that the pharmaceutical manufacturers have failed to resolve completely.
In recent years, a number of pharmaceutical companies have been investigated for providing kickbacks to physicians to encourage them to prescribe the manufacturers drugs. The most recent case involved kickbacks paid by Daiichi Sankyo of Japan to influence physicians to favor their drugs over other companies. These kickbacks were in the form of speaker’s fee at Daiichi-hosted events or sometimes, merely to the physicians own staff members. Daiichi Sankyo, Inc. agreed to settle the case for $39 million.
The size and financial influence of these companies have created an uneven system of supply, both in America and around the world. Reeling in drug manufacturers’ power to make them work harder for the society than they do for their shareholders continues to be a challenge for both legislators and activists.