Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Gates and big pharma

  Mr. Gates has invested in firms that specialize in retail (Walmart), food and beverages (Coca Cola & McDonalds), energy and transportation (British Petroleum and Toyota), and Biotech (Nimbus Discovery and Foundation Medicine).  But none of these investments match those he made in the pharmaceutical industry.  Indeed one of his first actions after withdrawing his shares from Microsoft when stepping down was to invest in the British Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).  On September 9, 2002, Gates sold almost half a billion dollars of Microsoft stock.  Around the same period, in the second half of 2002, he bought 2.5 million shares of Eli Lilly, manufacturer of Prozac, and made other major investments in Merck and Pfizer.  On May 17, 2002 the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation purchased shares of nine Big Pharma companies, valued at nearly $205 million.

  As an investor in Merck & Co., Pfizer Inc., Johnson & Johnson and others, the Gates foundation shares financial interests with the makers of AIDS drugs, diagnostic tools, vaccines and other drugs.  It should be recalled that Mr. Gates attained his demi-trillionaire status using a “nasty little monopoly-protecting trade treaty” called TRIPS:  the TradeRelated Intellectual Property Rights rules of the WTO.

  Gates Foundation endowment comes mainly from Mr. Gates’ personal fortune and Berkshire Hathaway stocks given to the Foundation by Hathaway’s CEO Warren Buffett.   More recently, other extremely influential people have poured enormous sums into the Foundation from their personal fortunes. 

  Bill Gates is a pretty smart guy.  So why did he embark on a massive vaccination campaign when the same funds could have been invested in genuinely sustainable community development and public-health programs?  Because that does not make money.  The Gates F. invested one billion dollars to develop a malaria vaccine produced by GSK, in which (you guessed it) Bill Gates holds large numbers of shares and on which he exerts considerable influence.  GlaxoSmithKline recently had to settle for $3 billion to resolve criminal and civil liability charges related to illegal drug marketing and withholding of information about health hazards associated with its diabetes drug Avandia, and in 2012 an Argentinian court found GSK guilty of “experimenting with human beings as well falsifying parental authorizations so babies could participate in the vaccine trials conducted by the laboratory from 2007 to 2008.”

  In India, in many areas where polio was nearly eradicated and the Gates F. engaged in vaccination campaigns polio is now rampant.  This was due to the use of an active polio vaccine called Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV), which is based on the oral administration of attenuated live polio virus and is banned in most western nations because recurrent shots of it actually increase the development of more aggressive polio strains and their mutation into deadly forms.  Subjects in India were given up to 10 injections of this vaccine instead of the one to two of the Inactive Polio Vaccine (IPV, which, as the name implies, uses an inactive polio virus) used here in Europe and in the United States.  The new strain’s outbreak of disease however has “non-polio” (no, I’m not kidding) in its name--“non-polio acute flaccid paralysis” (NPAFP)--in an attempt to deflect the responsibility and to blur the link between the Gates F. and the outbreak, despite the fact that the strains are nearly identical.

  Gates F. holds significant shares of some of the most “unhealthy” companies on the planet, responsible for millions of cases of obesity and diabetes, such as McDonald’s (9.4 million shares representing about 5% of the Gates’ portfolio) and Coca-Cola (with more than 15 million shares, over 7% of the Foundation’s portfolio, not counting Berkshire Hathaway holdings).  It is also strange that Gates F. would have invested enormous sums in pharmaceutical companies that stopped the shipment of low-cost AIDS drugs to Africa, despite professing that it wants to provide medicine to one million people by the end of the decade.

  Gates F. is essentially a huge tax-avoidance scheme for enormously-wealthy capitalists who have made billions from exploiting the world’s people.  The foundation invests, tax free, money from Gates and the “donations” from others, in the very companies in which Gates owns millions in stocks, thus guaranteeing returns through both sales as well as intellectual-property rights.  To add insult to injury, the system perpetuates the spread of disease rather than aids in their eradication, thus perpetually justifying his endeavors to “eradicate” them (solving a problem they are creating).     -Ruben Rosenberg Colorni, a writer, fourth-year student of International Public Management at The Hague University and an activist in a wide variety of causes ranging from the Palestinian occupation to environmental degradation.


  The US public poured billions of dollars into developing a COVID-19 vaccine, yet drug companies are reaping the profits and jealously guarding the intellectual property from poor countries….

  To a certain extent, I think small players just sort of defaulted to the pharmaceutical industry as “the public-facing deliverer.”  What the industry has done for a really long time is collate the huge amount of work done by academic, publicly funded scientists (and, in recent years, also small biotech companies) and brand it as their own.  In a lot of cases you almost don’t see pharmaceutical companies doing drug development anymore, and this is something lots of people in the industry would agree with.  Certainly lots of drug development goes on, but the model now involves companies taking on other research or buying it up from a biotech company and then providing the branding, the world reach, the legal protections, and the manufacturing.

  You also have the National Institutes of Health (NIH) signing over patents to Moderna and other companies to allow them to move forward.  A lot of the structural information--genetic information in relation to the virus, for example--was carried out by the NIH or academic researchers.

  So there’s a vast web pharma companies are pulling from, and then when you get to the end of it, the shot is just “Pfizer.”  There’s this sense that the government shows up with the money and the support, and then they just sort of take their hands away, and then everything else belongs to industry.

  Before the WTO came into being in the mid-1990s, enforcement of patents was a lot laxer.  One of my favorite examples is that countries like Spain, Italy and Canada were quite well known for just allowing companies within their borders to make pharmaceutical products. They would then pay a kickback, or rather a license fee, to the pharmaceutical company that held the patent while making a cheaper version domestically.  This was totally noncontroversial, and they used to do it for heartburn medication, for ulcer medication in Canada.  It wasn’t seen as beyond the pale at all.

  And in situations like pandemics--for example, during the quest to eliminate smallpox--you had the World Health Organization (WHO) assume the role of global coordinator, where they would take on information about how to make vaccines.  They would collate them, test them, and then send them out across the world to help people get their production up to speed.  You had countries like Bangladesh, Malaysia, Kenya, going from very little production to actually donating state-of-the-art vaccines back to the WHO to give to their neighbors after a few years--and this was all the way back in the 1960s and 1970s. In this case, there was no IP seized, but this kind of sharing was generally seen as a good thing.

  During World War II, the US government was trying to make more antibiotics, specifically penicillin, and they made Pfizer give up its recipe.  Not only did they share it with all of Pfizer’s competitors and give contracts to manufacturers, but they built factories using Pfizer’s process. This was all done by the War Production Board, which got a special dispensation to suspend antitrust law, which pharma companies weren’t thrilled about (not that it stopped them from making huge profits).  I think the really key thing is that nobody thought this was a really big deal.  They would look at, say, the need for penicillin during World War II and say, “Well, of course, Pfizer should give it up. Of course, the government can help distribute and produce this stuff.”

  That sentiment has very much evaporated since the 1990s, and despite the fact that a different way of coordinating a vaccine response exists within living memory--there are plenty of people alive who worked at these companies or worked in the governments that did these sorts of things--it’s considered beyond the pale that we would allow another country to make a private drug or that we would compel a pharmaceutical company to share its knowledge, even when faced with this enormous crisis.  It’s mind-boggling….

  Part of the original way some of these IP laws were written is owed to lobbying from companies like Pfizer--which played a huge role in getting the WTO IP rules written--and these rules were written largely to protect the position that companies like it enjoyed as privileged controllers of these products.  So the rules are written to keep certain products within the Western or, you might say, the developed sphere….

unwilling to look at the system as it stands or to ask whether we could do it differently, so he can’t see another way forward. To him, this is the best possible world:  we let private companies make these things, their processes are totally secret, their supply chains are totally secret, their capacities are totally secret, etc., but we just trust that they’re doing everything in the most efficient way possible and that’ll take care of everything for the world….

  The idea that these companies aren’t working on a purely capitalistic profit model is ridiculous.  Of course they are.  And you can see by the number of people that are now getting on board with the campaign to expand production, knock down patents, and share know-how that most don’t think this way.  When you look at people like Gates or those that run pharmaceutical companies they really are zealots.  They’re hardcore ideologues, and they think that the only way to do things involves turning a profit.   -Stephen Buranyi, a science journalist living in London

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