“If anyone can,” he may be able to work productively with critics, states New York Times
When the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) mulled over their options in search of a candidate to succeed retiring president & Chief Executive John Castellani, did the current wave of consumer outrage affect their decision?
New president and Chief Executive Stephen J. Ubl (pronounced YU-buhl) arrived in January with a fascinating professional background, not just in pharmaceuticals, but in public advocacy. Kudos to the Big Pharma lobby, if they took into account public outcry for industry reforms, particularly in pricing.
Of course, Ubl is a seasoned pitchman too, so we might do well to wait and see what actions he takes, before anointing him the panacea for America’s prescription drug woes. After all, he is paid by the pharmaceutical industry.
In the meantime, it’s refreshing to hear Big Pharma’s top lobbyist referring to pharmaceutical greed “poster boy” and “super-villain” Martin Shkreli as a “knucklehead” in the New York Times piece. Clearly, Ubl isn’t the type of person who defends every dues-paying member of the association regardless of what they do or say. So, the Times may make a good point in that the 47-year-old exec could be someone with whom all sides can work.
The chairman and CEO of Merck & Co. says he likes Ubl’s “patient-centered approach.” That, too, is talk that we hope is moored to some level of sincerity. Talk is cheap, and prescription drugs aren’t.
Ubl faces outrage from presidential candidates, too, in this election year. “Enough is enough,” wrote Senator Bernie Sanders on Twitter recently. “Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies can no longer be allowed to rip off American patients.” Hillary Clinton has also voiced opposition publicly to what she considers out of control drug prices.
Generic drug manufacturers remain skeptical. The chief executive of the Generic Pharmaceutical Association told the Times he feels that despite Ubl and PhRMA’s rosy outlook, “Sometimes actions speak louder than words.”
Consumer, doctor, and labor groups are understandably dubious. PublicCitizen.org has been engaged in a steadfast initiative against what they see as Big Pharma abuses, through their “Fight Pharma Ripoffs” email campaign.
Shkreli’s very public, December 2015 arrest, due to fraud charges related to his previous hedge funds, and his February 2016 appearance before a congressional committee looking into prescription drug price hikes – Shkreli repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment and appeared characteristically smug – further blackened the eye of an industry that had already taken some serious heat in previous months.
If all of this added up to PhRMA going with a leader whose credentials are more patient-friendly, there’s good reason to celebrate. It means, at the very least, that pharma is listening.
We can be hopeful and take some comfort in Ubl’s promises to employ his holistic philosophies which appear to see no irresolvable conflict between patient advocacy and corporate profits. Let’s also hope that his philosophies become policies, and – of course – that he can keep his job long enough to really make a difference.