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Merck-River Blindness

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Merck- River Blindness Case Analysis
Section 1: Introduction and situational analysis:
Merck is an American-based international pharmaceutical company with a history that spans almost 350 years. The company focuses on innovative research and consumer education. (Demand Media, 1999-2011 ) In 1950, George W. Merck, then the chairman of the company said, “We try never to forget that medicine is for people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered that, the larger they have been.” This philosophy was at the core of Merck and Co.’s values system. (Kreitner, 2010)
In 1978, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that over 300,000 people were blind and another 18 million were affected with a disease called onchocerciasis, better known as river blindness. River blindness was caused by parasitic worms that was spread by small black flies the breed in and lived around fast moving rivers mostly in developing countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. The parasitic larvae were transferred to humans when bitten by the small black flies, at which time the parasitic larvae would infect the host. The worms would begin to reproduce producing millions of microscopic baby worms into the person’s body. This would eventually lead to gross deformity, severe itching that in some cases cause people to commit suicide and eventually blindness. At the time, the disease had only two drugs that could kill the larvae but both had severe even fatal side effects. The only measure to try to control river blindness was to eliminate the small black flies that carried the larvae by spraying infected rivers with insecticides. However, eventually the flies built up immunity to the insecticides. (Kreitner, 2010)
Merck and Co. was doing research testing a new animal drug called ivermectin to see if it could effectively eliminate parasitic worms in animals. During testing Merck discovered that the ivermectin killed parasitic worms in horses that were similar to the same parasitic worms that caused river blindness in humans. Normally it would take $200 million and approximately 12 years of research in order to make a new drug available to the market. Giving that the river blindness disease was a rare disease and that most of the people affected by this dreadful disease could not afford to purchase the drug brought Merck and Co. to this ethical dilemma. (Kreitner, 2010) Should the company pursue research and development of the drug to cure river blindness, knowing there was no way to recoup the money and time invested by the company for development?

Section 2: Stakeholder analysis: The stakeholders are owners, customers, and scientist. The owners of Merck and Co. are the ones that will have the most to lose if research and development were approved for the new drug. The disadvantage of the owners pursuing the research and development of the new drug is the risk of potentially putting the company in a financial downward spiral, worst case potentially bankrupting the company. The advantage of the pursing the research and development of the new drug would to be able to provide a cure for the millions of affected people as well as the positive look of the company to the public. The scientist main disadvantage would be worst-case scenario for them, the company losing financial stability due to the high cost of research and development that potentially could lead to company shutting down and losing their jobs. The advantage of the scientist would be the potential impact of their work resulting in a cure for millions of affected people. The customers’ would have the biggest advantage if Merck and Co. pursued the research and development of the new drug. The new drug could lead to a better standard of living and an end to the unnecessary suffering for the millions of affected people and generations to come of the river blindness disease. Really on the only disadvantage, and a significant on at that, to the customers is that they would not be able to afford to purchase the new drug.

Section 3: Analysis based on ethical theories: The ethical dilemma of Merck and Co. in this case, from the view of society, Merck and Co. had an ethical obligation to proceed with the development of the drug. It would not matter if the drug only had a small chance; if there was a chance then the company was obligated to proceed as best it could. It does not matter how close the company was to the cure or how sure they would achieve it. Developing the cure would be the ethical thing to do. Merck and Co. had a responsibility to develop the cure in order to promote human welfare and good will through the research and development. As stated in its Corporate Responsibility statement from its website, which states, “At Merck, corporate responsibility is our daily commitment to tackle the world's biggest health challenges by discovering better ways to make a difference in everything we do. It is a simple promise that is embedded in our business and informs all our individual actions. It drives us to apply our scientific and operational expertise and our diverse, global talents and resources to some of the world’s biggest health, environmental and economic challenges. And it allows us to deliver greater value to both shareholders and society.” (Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., 2009-2011) along with Merck’s core value philosophy stated by George W. Merck in 1950, then the chairman of the company, “We try never to forget that medicine is for people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered that, the larger they have been.” This philosophy was at the core of Merck and Co.’s values system. (Kreitner, 2010) The reaction from the media would be a “Highly Visible” reaction either way if Merck decided to develop or not develop the drug. It is a no win situation for Merck and Co. If the decision to develop the drug were made the media coverage would build up Merck & Co’s reputation as an ethically strong corporation, potentially building a stronger customer base in the future. An ethically stronger corporation viewed by society could eventually lead to a bigger consumer base, which could potentially lead to recouping the research and development money and time invested for the new drug over a period. If the decision not to develop the drug was made society potentially would portray this as a company only out for profit even though the organization stated in its corporate responsibility that it was, “commitment to tackle the world's biggest health challenges”, (Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., 2009-2011) and that “We try never to forget that medicine is for people. It is not for the profits.” (Kreitner, 2010) This could be interpreted as a business that does not place any weight on its own moral obligations with their own values. Another way to analyze this ethical dilemma is from the point of view of the consequences and acting of the greater good of society. Looking at this ethical dilemma from this point of view would make this a relative easy decision for the Merck and Co. The pursuit of the research and development of the new drug would have a huge impact on so many people that were currently infected with the disease as well as the thousands of people that may be protected from future infection.
Section 4: Conclusion and recommendations: Merck and Co. choose to stand by its corporate responsibility and philosophy by making the ethically right decision to invest into the research and development of a cure for river blindness. The cure, Mectizan (ivermectin, MSD) was eventually developed. It is a very safe and highly effective drug approved to treat the world’s two most disfiguring and disabling tropical diseases: Onchocerciasis (river blindness) and lymphatic filariasis (LF). By Merck and Co. making the chose to continue with the research and development it showed that the company truly stood by its corporate responsibility statement and philosophy. As a result, Merck has truly made an impact on society. In 1987, Merck and Co. decided to donated its new drug for the treatment of river blindness to all who needed it for as long as necessary until the disease is eliminated as a public health problem. In 1998, Merck expanded its commitment to include the elimination of LF in African countries and Yemen where LF co-exist with river blindness. Currently the program reaches more than 110 million people each year and continues to grow annually. As of 2007, The Mectizan Donation Program (MDP) reached its 20th anniversary and has become the longest ongoing disease-specific drug donation program and public and private partnership in history. Since the program started in 1987, Merck has donated over 1.8 billion Mectizan tablets with as estimated value of $2.7 billion. Merck has approved more than 530 million treatments of river blindness since 1987, as well as the approval of 160 million treatments for lymphatic filariasis (LF) since 2000. More than 117,000 community based treatment programs treat river blindness in 33 countries in Africa, Latin America and Yemen. The Mectizan Donation Program is estimated to prevent approximately 40,000 cases of river blindness annually. The program has contributed to the recovery of more than 60 million acres of previously abandon arable land in Africa. (www.merck.com) Merck and Co. chose to continue its research and development into finding a cure for river blindness at the company’s own expense. A recommendation is that Merck and Co. could have sought out additional support both financially and resources from other pharmaceutical companies instead of doing it alone. The potential benefits of this could have resulted in less of a financial burden on Merck as well as a shorter research and development time.
In conclusion, Merck and Co. made the right ethical decision to pursue the cure of river blindness even though at the time the results of their decision were unknown. The impact that Merck and Co. has had on the world as mentioned in some of the statistics mentions earlier are is priceless. Millions of people have been impacted by Merck’s decision to do the ethically right thing instead of making a profit. This decision surely has established Merck and Co. as an example for other companies to follow.

References:

Demand Media, I. (1999-2011 ). www.ehow.com. Retrieved 12 28, 2011, from http://www.ehow.com/about_5147039_history-merck-pharmaceuticals.html
Drisdelle, R. (2007, July 04). Suite101.com. Retrieved December 28, 2011, from Eliminating River Blindness: Merck and Co. Inc. adn Ivermectin, Against Onchocerca volvulus: http://rosemary-drisdelle.suite101.com/eliminating-river-blindness-a25397
Kreitner, R. &. (2010). Organizational Behavior Ninth edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin.
Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., a. s. (2009-2011). www.merck.com. Retrieved December 28, 2011, from Corporate Responsiblity: http://www.merckresponsibility.com/corporate- responsibility/home.html www.merck.com. (n.d.). Retrieved December 28, 2011, from http://www.merck.com/cr/docs/122082_MECT_bckgrnd.pdf

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