When it comes to ethics in business, there are outwardly ethical businesses such as charities and businesses focused on social needs, there are those that might work in industries perceived to be less ethical such as finance or pharma, but who operate in an ethical way and make decisions that are strongly guided by ethics and then there are those that sit in between.
Having worked in the pharmaceutical industry for over 20 years, my experience lies in the middle of the three.
Although we work in an industry that ultimately improves or saves the lives of patients, the sector struggles against the conflict between saving lives and making money.
It costs more than £2bn to take a drug to market, including all the failures along the way. More and more of the therapies we develop have a small patient population to serve. Gone are the days of the blockbuster drug and the pharma company who seemingly makes $$$ on its sale.
All a patient sees is the availability or not of a new life saving therapy where a decision can routinely seem to be made on price.
But ethics are embedded in many of the regulations that govern the pharma industry. When we run a trial, decisions about patient impact (positive and negative) are always front and centre.
However, we only have a finite resource financially, and the companies that develop these therapies along with their supply chain employ many thousands of people who rely on those salaries to support their families and ultimately pay into the system to support our health services including the drugs we need.
When it comes to finite financial resources versus patient benefit, there is no simple answer.
So what is the ethical choice? In the past, I have experienced extreme financial pressure in a business setting. the main objective was always to ensure the staff were paid. But that meant our suppliers were put under pressure. I’d have loved to be able to pay our suppliers and our team but my decision, based on much soul searching, was to protect the payroll. The proverbial fork in the road.
How do you work out what the boundaries of your ethics are? A great mentor of mine gave me this piece of advice: Imagine your decision is plastered across the front of the tabloids – could you stand there and justify your actions with belief and conviction?
My advice? Always do the right thing. Sometimes we have to help our teams see what the right thing is, but in the end it’s often about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes whilst considering the best decision for the greater good.
In the same way that our industry needs to generate revenue to develop new life saving therapies, a balance has to be struck.
Emma Banks, head of ramarketing