In my last post, I described my broadened perception of ethical obligations. I began the project focused on alternative sources of funding pharmaceutical R&D that might create better end solutions for society as a whole, my ethical inquiry focused on ethics of an open mind. What I didn’t expect was how integral an open mind was going to be for me throughout this project. I started the project with clear expectations that I would be focused on two alternatives: public private ventures (PPVs) and prize fund systems. What I didn’t anticipate was the wide variety of “alternatives” in a widely changing and evolving industry.
During my first interview, I quickly realized that I need to adapt my project, to understand what these other alternatives were. I quickly re-evaluated my initial perceptions on static business operation. I believed previously that companies faced a simple decision; participate in an intellectual property system reliant on internal revenues or external funding from venture capitalist funds. Did companies look at PPVs or the idea of a prize fund systems? Did they seem them as pursuable outcomes? In fact, I discovered the ever changing practices of the industry.
For the first time, I learned of changing relationships within the industry between companies. How were companies co-operating in the development or research of diseases? I heard many perspectives on factors affecting the end product of innovation. By some, I was told that the financial down turn in the past decade decreased available money for innovation and by others I was described an increased competition for available money that allows or may allow for more innovation for society.
People described the emerging big sibling/little sibling role in the industry. Small companies develop ideas for innovation (the small cost portion) that they in turn to large companies to take over and develop and bring through clinical trials and market (the high cost portion). Small companies need large companies to provide the financial pay off to their early work, and have few chances of taking their product through the high risk, high cost development stages. Large companies rely on the small companies to not only create the ideas behind the innovation but to help field the risk of drug discovery. Large companies are able to pick which companies to invest in, choosing the promising research that will likely yield an end product.
And while the people I talked with had less to say on the possibilities of a prize fund system, through this open discussion on the industry dynamic I noticed something pretty startling: these relationships between large and small companies reflect and resemble the same dynamic embodied by the prize fund system. Many small firms competing for funding from large stores of cash (the big pharma companies).
My open perspective also enabled me to evaluate my perception of ethics in the industry. To understand the place of ethics in the industry, I was able to talk with people from various backgrounds: CEO, researcher, chemists, CFO, or lobbyists. I talked about ethical duties last week, but what about the ethical characterization of the industry? The characterizations of business people as cogs in a cold, profit driven machines were challenged and replaced by the images of the people who sat down with me to explain their side of the industry. I found people that were seeking a way to bring innovation to patients. These people described a self-imposed obligation to the patient. They viewed patients as their motivation. While this could be written off as complete rhetoric, I do believe there is truth anchoring these statements.
So while I began this project in an effort to evaluate the open-mindedness of pharmaceutical companies, the project challenged my own ability to maintain an open mind. While I have not been able to touch upon all areas of my project in these posts, I will continue to reflect on my interviews and the project as a whole. I will post the end product, a paper, as a final reflection. But until that point, I wanted to take a moment and thank everyone for their continued reading and support of this project.