Amid growing concerns that the Trump administration is moving to bypass normal and crucial safety protocols in a rush to approve a Covid-19 vaccine ahead of the November election, the CEO of one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. is insisting that the American public can trust the for-profit drug industry to police itself when it comes to developing a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine.
In an interview with Axios that aired Monday night, Eli Lilly chairman and CEO David Ricks said the pharmaceutical industry is "not going to make something or we're not going to sell it until we've proven to our own standards it's safe and effective, subjected it to scientific scrutiny from the outside world"—a promise one watchdog group dismissed as "like the wolf saying he'll guard the henhouse."
"The revolving door between the drug industry and the Trump administration has been spinning so fast that it's hard to see where the interests of one end and the other begins," Eli Zupnick, spokesperson for Accountable Pharma, said in a statement. "The public needs to be able to trust that decisions for the vaccine development process are being based on science and public health, and drug company self-policing simply isn't good enough."
Ricks, who is also the chairman-elect of PhRMA—a massive pharmaceutical lobbying group—said it would indeed be "very concerning" if drug companies were making decisions about potential Covid-19 treatments and vaccines based on "non-medical or scientific" considerations. But Ricks denied that's the case, even as public health experts are warning that the Trump White House is actively skirting safety regulations and politicizing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for electoral purposes.
"I think our industry has an interest in preserving that as an objective process," said Ricks, whose company is currently working with—and receiving funding from—the federal government as the pharma giant runs a Phase 3 clinical trial for a potential coronavirus treatment.
Ricks' remarks come days after FDA chief Stephen Hahn told the Financial Times that his agency would be willing to authorize a Covid-19 vaccine even prior to the completion of Phase 3 clinical trials—but insisted that it would not do so solely to appease the president.
As Common Dreams reported Monday, Hahn's comments drew swift backlash from scientists and public health experts. Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University in New York, tweeted that "we absolutely cannot tolerate or accept an emergency authorization for any Covid-19 vaccine without reliable safety and efficacy data from Phase 3 clinical trials."
Bypassing established safety procedures in the interest of speed, warned Rasmussen, "would place huge numbers of people at risk for massive potential harm."