Merck - River Blindness

1652 Words Aug 1st, 2011 7 Pages
Merck and Co. and river blindness

MANUEL VELASQUEZ, Business Ethics. Concepts and cases 4th edt., Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 1998

River blindness is an agonizing disease that affects some 18 million impoverished people living in remote villages along the banks of rivers in tropical regions of Africa and Latin America. The disease is caused by a tiny parasitic worm that is passed from person to person by the bite of the black fly which breeds in river waters. The tiny worms burrow under a person 's skin where they grow as long as two feet curled up inside ugly round nodules half an inch to an inch in diameter. Inside the nodules the worms reproduce by releasing millions of microscopic offsprings called microfilaria
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As a result of increasing public concern over rising health costs, government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid had recently put caps on reimbursements for drugs and required cheaper generic drugs in place of the branded name drugs that were Merck 's major source of income.

In the face of these worsening conditions in the drug industry, Merck managers were reluctant to undertake expensive projects that showed little economic promise, such as the suggested development of a drug for river blindness. Yet without the drug, millions would be condemned to lives of intense suffering, and partial or total blindness.

After many earnest discussions among Vagelos and his management team, they came to the conclusion that the potential human benefits of a drug for river blindness were too significant to ignore. Many of the managers felt, in fact, that because of these human benefits the company was morally obligated to proceed in spite of the costs and the slim chance of economic reward. In late 1980, Vagelos and his fellow managers approved a budget that provided the sizable funding needed to develop a human version of Ivermectin.

After seven years of expensive research and numerous clinical trials, Merck succeeded in developing a human version of Ivermectin: A single pill of the new drug taken once a year would eradicate from the human body all traces of the parasite that
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