Pfizer will not make future investments in Russia but stops short of severing all business ties, Bourla says
While many corporations have ended their ties to Russia as it continues to wage war on Ukraine, Big Pharma has been largely absent from its ranks. That changed — slightly — on Wednesday with a new declaration from Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.
Speaking on CBS’ Face the Nation program Wednesday, Bourla said Pfizer will end plans for future investment in Russia while not cutting ties completely. Bourla argued that Pfizer still needs to provide Russian patients with lifesaving drugs, regardless of their government’s actions.
“How can you say I’m not going to send the cancer medicines to Russians because of what they did?” Bourla told Face the Nation’s Margaret Brennan.
The impact of a full break would not affect Pfizer’s bottom line all that much, Bourla added, because less than half of one percent of the company’s revenue comes from Russia. Pfizer manufactures some treatments in the country but does not export them.
As Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, committing potential war crimes in the process with the bombings of residential areas and a maternity hospital, Western companies have come under pressure to end their business relationships. The growing chorus has come not only from the White House and Congress but from individuals as well.
One “naughty or nice” list, in particular, compiled by Yale professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, went viral on social media after Russia’s initial wave of attacks. The pressure mounted as the war continued, and some companies that initially were reluctant to pull out — such as McDonald’s, Starbucks and Coca-Cola — severed ties earlier this week.
Goldman Sachs also became the first big American bank to say it would leave Russia on Thursday, according to a list compiled by the New York Times.
But as more corporations rethink their relationships, Big Pharma has not entirely followed suit with many life sciences companies reiterating Bourla’s point of needing to provide medicines to patients. The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, a lobbying group comprised of companies like Roche, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk, argued the same Thursday.
“Our first priority is to ensure that medicines reach the patients that need them in Ukraine, in the neighbouring EU Member States, in Russia and in other countries where access to medicines may be negatively impacted,” the group wrote in a statement.
But Pharma hasn’t been sitting idly by, with many individual companies pledging humanitarian aid to Ukraine and denouncing the Russian invasion. GlaxoSmithKline has stopped advertising in Russia and committed more than $4 million to various charitable efforts, while AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim and Merck KGaA have donated more than $1 million each.
Pfizer took a step further with Bourla’s comments on Wednesday, and it remains to be seen whether other Big Pharma companies will join on.