Unlikely Collaborators Come Together to Tackle Ebola

In the midst of the current Ebola outbreak, there has been much made of the role of big pharma in the race to stem the tide of the deadly virus. Many commentators, non-governmental organizations and governments have been critical of drug companies in the past and currently for what is seen as their lack of interest in developing vaccines and cures for illnesses that are deadly, but just not profitable.

But numbers are numbers, and the decision-makers of publicly-traded companies are obligated to conduct their business in a way that returns an acceptable return on investment to shareholders.

In an editorial for Forbes called “Washington Post Off Base in Critiquing Pharma Efforts in Ebola,” John LaMattina points out that the rising costs of R&D needed to develop drugs to treat diseases like Ebola are so significant that an equally significant market must exist to incentivize these companies to invest in such research.

Similarly, James Surowiecki wrote in the New Yorker article “Ebolanomics” that drug companies necessarily consider the potential markets for any new drugs they put their resources into, and the prospect of impoverished populations in under-developed West Africa representing an attractive market are highly unlikely. The economics, therefore, suggest that drug companies have little reason to get involved in unprofitable public health crises.

Things appear to be different with Ebola, however. Long-time rivals Johnson and Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline are even teaming up to help fast-track the race to develop a vaccine for the deadly disease that has killed roughly 5,000 people in West Africa. As discussed by the Economist, other heavy hitters in the industry, such as Pfizer, NewLink Genetics and GAVI have also been getting into the mix.

One perspective on the sudden willingness of big pharma to tackle Ebola might be that the human tragedy caused by this virus has encouraged a sense of altruism among these organizations. However, a more pragmatic viewpoint might be that these companies have their eyes set further into the future and see this highly publicized outbreak as an opportunity to score some long-term public relations points as knights in shining armor, selflessly coming to the rescue at the height of the Ebola scare.

Regardless, we are likely all to be winners if these heavy hitting competitors can truly come together to find cost-effective, accessible solutions to this deadly disease.

The lessons of big phama might also be applied to other competitive organizations. While competitors tend to keep each other at arm’s length, sometimes there are benefits in collaboration. In fact, we covered this topic recently for a local business publication.

What about you? Are there opportunities for you to collaborate with competitors to generate results that benefit you, them, your customers and even the community at large?

Recommended Reading:

The Everything Guide to Customer Engagement

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