More than 20,000 people are expected to attend BIO 2007, the world's largest biotech conference.
Stephen Heuser, a reporter for the Globe, covers biotechnology, medical devices, and the life-science industry.
Christopher Rowland , Globe reporter, covers the healthcare economy, including doctors and hospitals, insurance, and research.
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Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Atoning for their "sins"
The backers of the BIO conference have spent this week talking up the biotech industry's role in improving global health -- not just by making high-end cancer infusions and rare-disease treatments for American patients, but by fighting massive diseases in poor countries.
Perhaps the industry can help, but why would it? Why would a for-profit company jump into a healthcare market with millions of needy people living somewhere with no healthcare budget?
Jim Geraghty of Cambridge's Genzyme Corp., which has recently become involved in malaria research, made a blunt argument in a healthcare panel meeting this morning that good works can be good business. "It's not a humanitarian program," he said of the company's work in the developing world. Doing research in partnerships with local disease-fighters, Geraghty said, can help build support among foreign politicians who might set policies and prices for drugs actually on the market.
But Robert Sebbag, a Sanofi Aventis executive who works in Morocco, said that in much of the world it's an uphill battle for drug companies to shed their reputation as money-minded interlopers.
"The original sin of pharmaceutical industry is to make a profit on health," said Sebbag. "And that is not well accepted. People like drugs, but they don't like drug makers."