Props to big pharma?

I was watching an old Boston Legal episode awhile back where a man goes to court to defend the right to his own blood.  The legal battle was due to the fact that after acquiring HIV, his body had somehow rid itself of the disease and years later he was HIV/AIDS free.  A public health doctor was making the case that if he were granted rights to the man’s blood, he could use it to find a cure or a vaccine for the benefit of the public at large.  The man on the other hand was trying to protect his ability to work with private companies, both in an effort to profit from his own blood, but also because he felt that private industry had the financing available to actually do the research and deliver a cure faster than the government ever would.

I thought of this after reading this article in the Atlantic about pharmaceutical companies and the limits of CSR.  With the threat of a global pandemic (H1N1 is of course today’s obvious front runner) the article cites the great lengths the pharmaceutical firm Roche has taken to stockpile its Tamiflu vaccine (one of the only drugs that is effective in treating H1N1) and establish global manufacturing schemes, stockpiles and licenses for underdeveloped countries to manufacture generic versions.  From the looks of it, Roche is doing whatever it can to share the benefits of the drug they’ve developed should it be needed on a global scale in the future – and all at their own cost.

The article goes on to question whether as a private entity Roche should be responsible for ensuring the ultimate framework is in place to capitalize on their CSR efforts?  And perhaps more importantly, how useful is this if the public agencies that would necessarily partner with them in addressing a global epidemic to take advantage of their stockpiles (namely WHO), aren’t prepared with the logistical strategy to distribute what Roche has set aside?  The article concludes with this statement, “…how much corporate responsibility can society demand from a firm like Roche apart from demanding that governments and other non-corporate interests reciprocate?”

This brings me back to Boston Legal and a vaguely connected thought about how important it is for CSR initiatives, whether charitable or operational, to have solid public (and sometimes non-profit/NGO) partners in order to maximize the strategy and goodwill that a company is putting forth.  Many of us don’t expect big pharma to be taking the steps that Roche has in the interest of the greater good, but what a shame if such steps are taken and the public agencies that could maximize their potential aren’t in a position to do so on a global scale.