COVID-19 Pandemic Challenges Traditional Pharma Model

From the beginning one thing was clear: the COVID-19 pandemic will end only when everyone, everywhere has access to vaccines and life-saving treatment. Even as we struggle here in the U.S. to vaccinate people of color and those who are reluctant, billions of people elsewhere have been suffering through a pandemic with no access to vaccines, even as there are significant surpluses here and elsewhere in the world.

To be fair, the pharmaceutical industry deserves praise for producing safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines so quickly. Developing a vaccine takes an average of 10 years — if it works at all. Despite decades of well-funded research, there are still no vaccines for HIV or malaria. We now have multiple, highly effective COVID vaccines, all developed in less than a year.

These vaccines are the product of innovative research dating back several decades, spurred by unprecedented public investment. Operation Warp Speed has provided more than $10 Billion in support of vaccine makers for the development and expansion of manufacturing capacity. Another $825 million has been given in support of monoclonal antibody therapies. As of March, U.S. commitment to the CT-Accelerator stood at $6 billion. In April, President Biden pledged another $2 billion to the international COVAX effort.

Amid such vast public investment, pharma companies pursued monopolistic deals with the fruits of taxpayer-funded innovation, rather than volunteering to share their know-how for the next great task facing humanity: getting those vaccines to everyone, everywhere, at the lowest cost possible, as quickly as possible. This traditional business model based on public funding followed by IP protected monopolistic practices is finally facing financial, legal, and reputational risks.

Alongside other ICCR members, SGI members participated in a campaign to challenge companies to disclose how public investment into COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics figured into global pricing & access strategies. This is important, because drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them. The increasing trends of the rise of coronavirus variants combined with our collective failure to mask up and maintain social distance suggests that Covid-19 will become an endemic condition, much like the flu. Billions of us likely will need the vaccine each year.

This is not an issue that only rests with governments. Corporations have an important role to play in ensuring equitable access to affordable, quality care. Recent shareholder resolutions asked pharma companies to account for their role in our collective fight against the Coronavirus. Many other shareholders agreed yielding votes in excess of 30%. As a recent article in Responsible Investor asked: “[S]hould middle/low income countries have to rely on the paternalism of well-meaning NGOs and donors when the pharmaceutical industry has it within its power to play a pivotal role in ending this global scourge?”

Investors say executive pay packages at pharma may incentivize drug pricing risks

Today, the ICCR published a press release about resolutions filed with five U.S. pharmaceutical companies. SGI members are co-filers on each of the five resolutions. These resolutions are important components of SGI’s activity this year in health. The resolutions can be described as tools to gain insight into how executive compensation aligns with the values, vision, and business strategy of the companies.

This post will be updated with media coverage:

The press release is shared in full below.

Investors say executive pay packages at pharma may incentivize drug pricing risks

DATE:
Dec 13th 2017

In resolutions at five U.S. drug makers, investors request a review of compensation policies that may drive senior execs to ignore the long-term business risks of skyrocketing drug costs.

NEW YORK, NY, Wednesday, December 13, 2017 – Investors today announced they have filed resolutions at five major pharmaceutical companies asking for information about how well executive pay incentives mitigate long-term financial risks associated with mounting public concerns over the affordability of prescription medicines.

The investors are all members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a shareholder coalition that has been engaging the pharma sector for decades on drug access and affordability. In the resolutions, the investors argue that an executive compensation incentive program reliant on revenue growth solely from drug price increases is a risky and unsustainable strategy.

The resolution specifically requests a report on the extent to which risks related to public concern over drug pricing strategies are reflected in executive compensation policies, plans and programs. Read the full resolution text here. The five companies receiving the resolutions are Abbvie, Amgen, Biogen, Bristol Myers Squibb, and Eli Lilly. ICCR members also filed a separate but similar resolution at Pfizer and Vertex requesting a report on the business risks from rising pressure to contain U.S. prescription drug prices.

“As investors in these companies, we are concerned that misaligned incentive pay may encourage executives to sacrifice long-term, organic growth from drug discovery for short-term, ‘quick fix’ strategies that may pose business risks,” said Meredith Miller of the UAW Retiree Medical Benefits Trust.

Public anxiety over drug prices has soared in recent years as millions of Americans struggle to afford the essential medicines needed to maintain their health. Scandals over excessive price hikes at several pharma companies have made the pharma industry the target of Congressional hearings, law suits, denials of coverage from insurers and ballot initiatives in several states which would force manufacturers to negotiate the prices of key medicines with government agencies such as Medicare and Medicaid.

Against this backdrop, the investors say, companies need to prove to their investors and to the public that they are doing everything possible to control drug prices in order to manage business and brand risk. The investors view executive incentive programs as a governance tool designed to ensure adequate oversight of risk and alignment of corporate strategies with mission.

Said Donna Meyer of Mercy Investment Services, “The increased scrutiny around drug pricing and how it is being managed by pharma management has had reputational consequences for the entire industry. Our resolution request is very straightforward: an evaluation of how these concerns are being integrated into corporate governance structures. To the degree that executive incentives reflect a company’s mission and growth strategies, this is clearly a critical and material issue for investors.”

“Our goal is to better understand what oversight these pharmaceutical company boards are exercising when executive incentives are tied so closely to profits,” said Cathy Rowan, who represents Trinity Health as a member of ICCR. “When these profits appear to be derived wholly from price hikes, it raises concerns among those of us who care about access to, and the affordability of, medicines — particularly for vulnerable populations like women, children and seniors.”

Investors are expected to vote on the resolutions at each company’s 2018 annual meeting of shareholders.