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Weekly Comment

Big pharma lends a helping hand

By Kirsty Barnes , 29-Oct-2007

Despite often attracting a barrage of negative publicity, particularly in regard to a perception of putting profits before people, big pharma firms are still capable of showing their human side in times of crisis.

Following the recent earthquake that hit near Pisco, Peru, numerous firms have donated assistance, including Johnson & Johnson (J&J), Schering-Plough, Abbott, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), Boehringer Ingelheim, Eli Lilly, sanofi-aventis and Novo Nordisk.


According to industry member body Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), J&J, provided monetary contributions; medicines and wound care products; along with food, water, tents and blankets and is also discussing options to assist in rebuilding hospitals, orphanages or schools damaged by the earthquake.


Likewise, Schering-Plough has provided victims with a number of its branded medicines and its local staff members have also been assisting with relief efforts for food, shelter and medical care.


Other firms that have donated medication are Abbott and Boehringer Ingelheim, who as members of the Partnership for Quality Medical Donations (PQMD) provided $470,000 (€327,000) and $380,000 worth of nutritional and pharmaceutical products respectively.


In addition, BMS gave antibiotics and the world's three big diabetes players, Eli Lilly, sanofi-aventis and Novo Nordisk, have all donated diabetes medication.


Meanwhile, Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) have so far stepped in to offer assistance in response to the ongoing fires crisis in California.


There are more than 500 life science companies, ranging from small biotechs to some of the 'biggest names' in drug development, and employing more than 36,000 people across the whole of San Diego County, where wildfires have been raging out of control for the past week.


A commitment of up to $150,000 has been pledged by Eli Lilly. $100,000 will be divided between three agencies: the American Red Cross ($25,000) and the Salvation Army ($25,000) for immediate relief efforts; while the San Diego Foundation's 'After the Fires' will receive $50,000 to help support longer-term rebuilding efforts. The firm said it also will match its US employee contributions, dollar for dollar, up to a cap of $50,000.


GSK has responded by offering over $1m in free respiratory medicines to those affected by the fires and $100,000 worth of relevant consumer products.


Meanwhile, in response to a crisis of a different kind, Pfizer has been doing its bit to help address the issue of climate change.


The pharmaceutical bigwig was recently listed on the Climate Disclosure Leadership Index (CDLI) by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), a not-for-profit coalition of more than 315 global investors that recognises companies in their efforts towards the environment.


Pfizer was the only pharmaceutical company to make it onto the list. "Pfizer has set itself apart from its peers by its thorough and comprehensive climate change disclosure and its voluntary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and commitment to renewable energy," said CDP CEO Paul Dickinson.


Since 1996 the firm has implemented an in-house standard requiring the conservation of energy and reduction of greenhouse gases.


In 2002, the firm became a charter member of the Climate Leaders Program, a collaboration between the United States Environmental Protection agency and industry that aims to develop long-term, comprehensive climate change strategies and sets greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals, after which point it established a company-wide goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 35 per cent per million dollars of sales by the end of 2007 from the baseline year of 2000.


The company said it is also evaluating and implementing a number of projects that generate electricity from clean energy sources.


Environmental issues are important for the pharma industry to consider - an article published in the March 31 issue of the British Medical Journal revealed that clinical trials are saving lives but may be killing the environment due to their 'intensive energy use' and 'substantial contribution to greenhouse gasses.'


Energy use in clinical research premises and trial-related air travel have been identified as the biggest culprits, and the situation is only set to intensify as the trend towards outsourcing various elements of clinical trials and other pharmaceutical functions to far flung destinations all over the world continues to gain momentum.

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