US Merck CEO Quits Trump’s Council

16.08.2017 -

Kenneth Frazier, CEO of Merck & Co, the third largest US pharmaceutical manufacturer, has resigned from US President Donald Trump’s manufacturing council after criticizing what he saw as the president’s inadequate response to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that led to the death of a nonviolent protester.

In a Twitter message, Frazier – one of a handful of African-Americans to head a Fortune 500 company – wrote:

“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which runs counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.”

Commenting on Frazier’s deprture, Trump tweeted that, after his resignation from the advisory post, the executive “will have more time to lower rip-off drug prices.”  In a subsequent follow-up, he said: “Merck is a leader in higher & higher drug prices while at the same time taking jobs out of the US. Bring jobs back & lower prices.”

Frazier was one of several US pharmaceutical companies attending a January 2017 meeting with Trump at the White House, who heard him call for cuts in "astronomical" drug prices. If prices were lowered and drugmakers repatriated production to the US, the incoming US leader hinted that he would advise the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lower regulations and speed up approval for new medicines.

No action on either front has been observed over the past several months; however, medical writer Linda A. Johnson commented that, under Frazier’s aegis, Merck has tried to make its pricing somewhat more transparent  by revealing its overall drug price changes. In January of this year, she said, the New Jersey-based drugmaker reported that since 2010 its average net prices increased in a range of 3.4-6.2% annually, about half as much as the rise in retail prices.

Following the Merck move, the CEOs of electronics manufacturer Intel and sportswear group Under Armour also quit the council. Some commentators said they expected other members to resign, while others were skeptical. Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric, explaining why he was not quitting, said that, although GE is a “proudly inclusive company” that has “no tolerance for hate, bigotry or racism,” it is important to remain on the council so that GE can “participate in the discussion on how to drive growth and productivity in the US.”

Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris likewise gave no indication that he planned to step away from playing a role in the Trump administration. Remarking that there is “no room for hatred, racism or bigotry” at Dow, Liveris said the chemical giant would “continue to work to strengthen the social and economic fabric of the communities where it operates — including supporting policies that help create employment opportunities in manufacturing and rebuild the American workforce.”

Since Trump’s inauguration, the Dow chief has repeatedly supported the president, among other things appearing with him at rallies.     

Elsewhere, the CEO of Netherlands and UK-based multinational consumer products group Unilever, Paul Polman, lauded the Merck chief’s decision. On Twitter, the executive wrote:

Thanks@Merck Ken Frazer for strong leadership to stand up for the moral values that made this country what it is.

Among biotechs, John Maraganore, CEO of Alnylam, applauded Frazier's decision, reports said, and Roy Vagelos, a former Merck CEO who currently is chairman of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, also backed the current Merck leader.

Johnson & Johnson's Alex Gorsky is now the only pharma CEO on Trump’s manufacturing panel. News reports cite Gorsky as saying he will remain on the panel “in order to remain engaged, not as a way to support any specific political agenda, but as a way to represent the values of Our Credo as crucial public policy is discussed and developed."