Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Merck Druggernaut by Fran Hawthorne - Review

Year 2003. If one could imagine the worst time to publish the book that praised the Merck's pharma business, then the author Fran Hawthorne couldn't have done the better job.

Published on eve of Merck's Vioxx scandal, this book provides mostly positive, though superficial look at Merck's history and its tradition to put "the patients first". 

Within 1 year, Merck's Vioxx scandal was an example of what is wrong with big pharma (suppression of negative data about drug's side effects, pricing of drugs that are based not on actual drug benefits but on market tolerance threshold and widespread abuse of patent law to prevent cheap version of the drugs to reach the market).

Book itself is easy to read but it is totally useless. After first few chapters, the author's focus wanders around and discusses among other things how pharma sales reps used to interact with medical providers (i.e. doctors). 

One things is clear from this book: when the company goes public, all hell breaks loose. Until Merck went public in 1995, Merck was the best pharma company in the world (in basic pharma research, in number of drugs developed and approved, and consistently listed among the best and the most admired companies). 

The author's mission was to show to the reader how Merck is (or was) so different from other pharma companies. However, in the end, Merck appears to be no different at all. There is no surprise here. Publicly-traded companies are subject to shareholders pressure. Only thing that matters afterwards is a profit. Prestige, reputation, curiosity and culture go out of window.

posted by David Usharauli   

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