Ian Read: LinkedIn and Locked on

  • by: |
  • 08/05/2014

Ian Read (Chairman and CEO of Pfizer and the current Chairman of PhRMA) recently published a piece on LinkedIn under the title, Why Society Needs a Vibrant Pharmaceutical Industry: Improving Patients' Lives.

Towards the end, Read writes:

I recognize that there are differing views when it comes to society’s perception of the pharmaceutical industry. Many believe we are more focused on making profits rather than finding cures for patients, even though the industry has a long-standing commitment to providing patients access to needed medicines through many different programs globally. There is also a perception that we do not operate in an open and transparent manner when it comes to our clinical data and financial relationships with healthcare providers. This view lingers despite the significant steps that have been taken to increase transparency, even in the face of the current debate that rages over an individual’s right to privacy.

As an industry we are working diligently to improve our standing in society. We understand that we have a great responsibility. We are at the center of society’s desire and expectation for delivering potential cures and new lifesaving treatments. We will continue to fulfill that vital purpose.

Patients are waiting and we are working hard every day to earn their trust.

Fine sentiments and well-crafted words – but working hard alone isn’t enough to earn trust. Pharma must work hard to do the right thing. What does that mean?

Mr. Read offers the following:

Over the course of the past 50 years, this industry has tackled some of the leading causes of disease and life-threatening illnesses.

For example, today the number of people who have died from heart attacks and strokes has declined. In 2008 around 16 percent of the U.S. adult population was taking a statin to reduce cholesterol. This translated into 60,000 fewer heart attacks, 22,000 fewer strokes and 40,000 fewer deaths.

An article published in 2010 by the Journal of Health Economics found that from 1988 to 2000, improvements in cancer survival created an estimated 23 million additional life-years over this period.

And according to the World Health Organization, immunizations save an estimated 2.5 million lives every year. For every $1 the U.S. spends on childhood vaccinations, we save $10.20 in disease treatment costs.

Consider that pharmaceutical innovation has accounted for 73 percent of the total increase in life expectancy between 2000 and 2009 across 30 developing and high-income countries.

Those are, by any measure, extraordinary accomplishments. Why then is the biopharmaceutical industry so roundly pilloried in the press and so low in the general view of public opinion? Working hard, it seems, is not enough.

At  PhRMA’s 14th annual meeting in Washington DC. this past April, Read said that industry needs to “fix the misperception gap.”

Pharma must embrace a new paradigm. Rather than focusing on traditional ROI (Return on Investment), they must now also consider Return on Integrity.

Integrity comes in many forms. Honesty. Virtue. Morality. It means not waiting to be told to do it or waiting to see what others do first. Integrity means being principled and, as my father used to say, “A principle doesn’t count until it hurts.”

Mr. Read’s article on LinkedIn is a good start – but there are many other issues that need to be addressed (such as comparative effectiveness, drug pricing, and off-label communications). Trumpeting accomplishments is both important and cathartic – but now its time for the America’s top drug honcho (and his counterparts at other companies) to move on to more contentious and complicated topics.


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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