Based in the United States and ranked as the largest pharmaceutical company in the world until last year, where they were surpassed by Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer is now ranked by Forbes as the second largest drug company in the world but it has had its own fair share of controversies throughout its existence.

Not being much of a science-y person myself, I still find pharmaceutical companies fascinating. The companies, full of scientific geniuses, spend countless hours and billions of dollars researching and developing what they hope will be a new drug that will cure some type of problem or ailment that is faced by humans today. But what is nothing ever comes of their research and their millions of dollars go to waste? It’s a risk that they’re willing to take (and I, for one, am happy that they are), but what if it is at the expense of the very ones that they are seeking to heal?

During the meningitis epidemic of 1996 in Nigeria, Pfizer tested their “dangerous new antibiotic called Trovan on children … without receiving proper consent form their parents, … using their children as human guinea pigs”. In 2009, Pfizer was fined $2.3 billion in a health care fraud settlement after it was exposed that they were intentionally misleading the public by misbranding their painkiller drug, Bextra. In 2010, “1.37 million [was awarded] to a former Pfizer scientist who claimed she was sickened by a genetically engineered virus at a company lab and was then fired for raising safety concerns”.

While I think it can be argued that drugs must be tested  in order to verify their effectiveness, I think that Pfizer has overstepped its place by not properly informing people of the risks involved with its trials. I also think that it is particularly outrageous that they were administering a drug that hasn’t been approved by the FDA to children without parental consent and rather than taking safety concerns seriously, they’d rather eliminate the problem. The information above was news to me, which is likely the result of my lack of awareness and attention to news a few years ago. However, I can’t help but wonder if Pfizer’s position as one of the top drug companies in the world has influenced the media as well as other institutions to look the other way as they’re trying to develop cures to illnesses for what can be considered “the greater good”.

Links: (more links embedded within the report)


6 thoughts on “Pharma-what?

  1. The world of pharma is so controversial, it seems as though there’s always a problem with new drugs entering the market. The trouble is, do we get these drugs into the market now and potentially help people, or do we wait to get years of testing done only to find out that it’s all been a waste of time because the drug doesn’t work? There are ethical issues everywhere here. It seems as though pharma can’t win…but they keep making money in the meantime.


  2. Being a big pharma like Pfizer is really dangerous. The average person has no idea what it takes to create a painkiller or any other type of medication so why would we not believe what they are telling us? They have enough power to go and use human guinea pigs in Africa, get caught and fined $2.3 billion, and still be the second biggest pharma. They could probably hand out sugar pills and tell everyone they were painkillers. Why would we have any reason to not believe them? They have significant power that could be dangerous one day.


  3. Mona, you raise an interesting topic about the pharmaceutical industry abusing their power in the marketplace. I think we are quick to praise these companies for being innovative while helping to cure people, but we are misinformed of the processes involved. I was unaware of Pfizer’s antibiotic testing, and I believe they overstepped and abused their power to forego consent and perform unregulated experiments. I do not think there is any one particular price to pay for harming the lives of children, but I believe we must hold the companies accountable for their actions while educating the public of such harmful testing techniques.


  4. This is an extremely interesting topic of discussion. The issue with Pfizer raises a similar question to the one asked in regards to Mike Daisey. Do the ends really justify the means? Is the illegality of their testing okay because it contributes to the greater good of society as a whole? I personally think it is ironic that a company with a mission to cure diseases is simultaneously putting individuals in danger in the process by testing new antibiotics on children.


  5. This was a really interesting post for me to read. My whole life, I took medicines for granted. I had never really thought about what goes on behind the scenes in drug and antibiotic development. Now that the issue has been brought up, it makes me wonder how many failed trials were there before the development of advil? ibuprofen? What happened to the people that were tested? How many were tested?


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