Pharma Tour

Megabux Pharmaceuticals can trace its roots to a humble beginning in the early twentieth century. In the days when filling prescriptions required a mortar, pestle and a scale, it started as a neighborhood pharmacy in Euclid, Ohio. Back then it was known as Blake’s Pharmacy and Soda Shoppe. Eventually, Blake’s was purchased by Drugall, a pharmacy chain, which was then acquired by—well, you get the picture. Today, what were once independent small businesses, are all consolidated into a single large corporate structure.

I recently toured Megabux Corporate Center in West Podunk, North Carolina. Since the collapse of the buggy whip industry, this area has offered a low cost of living, inexpensive property, and as a right-to-work state eliminated the need to worry about unions. The two story cinderblock building was obviously another cost effective measure, looking more like a warehouse than a corporate headquarters. There were few windows except those in the entry foyer.

My guide was waiting for me; she was your typical public information type—young, pretty, female, well dressed, all wrapped up in a bubbly personality. In my letter requesting the tour, I had mentioned that I was specifically interested in the Research and Development areas.

“We actually have two R & D sections,” she told me as we walked down the hall, stopping at a blue door with the requisite electronic lock. Using her identification card and entering a code, she opened the door and ushered me in to a laboratory the size of a football field, well equipped with ventilation hoods, laboratory glassware, microscopes, and everything else a major pharmaceutical company would need to develop tomorrow’s wonder drugs. There were at least 60 work stations; about a dozen people in white lab coats were clustered around the three tables closest to the entry door.

“Big conference?” I asked, wondering where all the other chemists, biologists, and other scientific types might be.

“Oh, this is everybody that works down here,” she replied. “The other R&D section is much busier and has over 600 people working in it.”

“Please, let’s check it out,” I said. She showed me to the elevator and pressed the button. When the door opened, I was amazed. There were people everywhere carrying computer printouts, conferring with one another, and obviously intent on their work.

“You see,” she began, “the incentive in the pharmaceutical industry is no longer to find new drugs that treat diseases. Actually, cures are the worst because people buy one or two bottles of our product, get better and stop buying. We get better results by using a cadre of lawyers, accountants, and marketing people.

“This section,” she explained as we walked, “focuses on how to extend the patents on drugs we already have. Over here they find other clinical uses for our drugs. Bob over there,” she said waving to him, “is an actual physician and he suggests off-label uses; the legal staff then helps set up clinical trials at various hospitals so we can sell a drug for a whole new set of reasons.

“Marketing works over here, and I’m sure you’re familiar with their work. George,” she said, pointing at an elderly gentleman, “was the genius who came up with the line ‘Ask your doctor . . . .’ Unfortunately, we were not able to trademark it. Pity, it’s worth millions.

“And finally, here we have the cream of the crop when it comes to creative accountants. They devise ways for us to increase the price of our products, AND,” she continued excitedly, “they also handle tax loopholes, offshore banks, and such. This corporation actually pays less in taxes than a middle class family of four.” She smiled.

“So all your research is focused on making money?” She smiled broadly and nodded. I continued, “And you do almost no research to develop new drugs.” She blinked, then looked at me, bewildered.

“Why in the world would we want to do that?”

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