Big pharma has been muted in its response to President Trump's executive order imposing severe travel restrictions on nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days. Small biotech, however, has no reservations about speaking out against the so-called 'immigration ban'.
Scrip contacted the top 20 global pharma companies (by revenue) and asked them what travel advice they were giving their US and non-US employees from the seven listed countries (Iran, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia).
Many, including the world's biggest pharmaceutical company – Pfizer Inc. – refused to comment, and the responses from those that did had a common theme.
Roche: "We are currently assessing a potential impact on our employees."
AstraZeneca PLC: "We are working to fully understand the implications of the Executive Order on our business and our employees. AstraZeneca is proud of the diverse talent within our international organization and we remain committed to maintaining that diversity and attracting the best global talent."
Novo Nordisk AS: "It all depends on how the new rules are implemented in practice. Until we have a clearer understanding of this, there is nothing more we can say at present."
Merck & Co. Inc.: "We are committed to our employees of all nationalities and religions. We are actively reaching out to employees who may be affected by the Executive Order to provide legal advice and other assistance."
Shire PLC: "We are monitoring these developments carefully. The benefits our employees bring to patients stem directly from the diverse experiences, ideas and perspectives of our entire workforce. Valuing and respecting differences is core to our workplace culture and community relationships around the world."
The most detailed responses Scrip received was from Novartis and Takeda.
Novartis AG: "At Novartis, the care and support of our associates is paramount. Upholding our steadfast commitment to associates of all nationalities and religions is core to our values as we work to address society's most pressing healthcare challenges. To date, there has been no reported disruption to Novartis associates on business travel as a result of the recent Executive Order on travel into the US by the new US Administration. We continue to assess and evaluate any potential impact on our associates."
Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd: "Takeda lives by a set of unchanging values, including a commitment to diversity. We value the contributions of all of our employees regardless of country of origin, nationality or religious affiliation. We reject any and all forms of discrimination. This includes those that could impact our ability to attract and retain the best scientific and business minds that are discovering, making and distributing our medicines that help patients globally live better and longer lives."
Johnson & Johnson, which has not responded to Scrip's request for a response to the EO, highlights on its website the story of one of its employees in Europe who is a Syrian refugee. He would, under the executive order, be banned from visiting J&J's headquarters in the US. J&J CEO Alex Gorsky, meanwhile, was photographed sitting next to Trump during a meeting with US business leaders early last week.
One big pharma CEO who did make a public response to Trump's EO was Allergan PLC CEO Brent Saunders, via Twitter.
"$AGN is strong & bold bc of diversity. Oppose any policy that puts limitations on our ability to attract the best & diverse talent."
Compare the big pharma response with the direct comments (via Twitter) from the CEOs of smaller companies in the industry. Here is a selection:
Acorda Therapeutics Inc. CEO Ron Cohen tweeted: "Medical #innovation we need relies on US attracting best & brightest talent, wherever it comes from. #American values"
Warp Drive Bio Inc. CEO Laurence Reid tweeted: "Privileged to serve as CEO of young biotech. Proud immigrant & citizen. We stand unreservedly w our immigrant colleagues who serve our cause"
Moderna Therapeutics LLC CEO Stéphane Bancel tweeted: "The USA has been built by immigrants. Legal immigrants should not be prevented from entering the US. Regardless of country of birth"
It is clear that business leaders globally have struggled to read the fine print of Trump's Executive Order. It appears this is because there is a serious dearth of details to the EO. As legal challenges across the US mount up, big pharma ‒ like the rest of the world ‒ is waiting to see whether the restrictions will stand up to scrutiny, and how they will be implemented across the various US entry procedures.
This story was updated to include responses from Shire and Takeda.
Find more coverage on the US election here.
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