Patent abuse, lack of transparency, profiteering – how Covid-19 exposes Big Pharma’s harmful business strategies

The pandemic has shone the harsh light of day on the business model with which the pharmaceutical industry maximises its profits at the public interest’s expense. In an exclusive report, Public Eye reveals the ten strategies with which Pfizer, Roche, and Novartis are systematically using Covid-19 to their advantage. By the same token, the report outlines how governments of rich countries like Switzerland are complicit in the current shortage and inequitable distribution of vaccines.

The pandemic makes structural abuses particularly visible, including the problematic principles that the pharma industry has been using for years to drive its astronomical return on sales. The scientific community and pharma industry deserve recognition for the development and approval of several vaccines in record time. However, the hope of rapid success was undermined by the privatisation of knowledge and resultant vaccine shortage. The rift between the reality and the narrative pushed by the pharma industry and the policies that protect it has never been wider than during this global health crisis. Public Eye’s new research report “Big Pharma takes it all,” which relies on the analysis of nearly 3,000 publications, proves this. 

The report analyses the strategies that pharma companies use to minimise their financial risk and to optimise their profit margins. It shows that these 10 “business commandments” are also applied to – highly state-subsidised – products for the diagnosis, treatment and control of Covid-19. They include the abuse of monopoly power through patents and other exclusive rights, which in turn leads to excessively high prices, artificial shortages, and poor access – above all in developing and emerging countries, but also in Switzerland. Other “strategies for success” employed by Big Pharma that have become particularly apparent include refusing any form of transparency or public accountability, designing clinical studies for self-interest, and benefiting from public funding with no strings attached. 

These practices are partly responsible for the severe global shortage of vaccine and other medical tools against Covid-19, which is particularly acute in financially weaker countries. Yet instead of taking measures to address the pharma companies’ harmful business model, the states where they are headquartered, including Switzerland, now provide them with even more aggressive political defence. Public Eye is therefore calling on the Federal Council to stop opposing the suspension of the WTO agreement on intellectual property (the TRIPS waiver) during the pandemic; to unambiguously support WHO initiatives on fair access to vaccines (including COVAX & C-TAP) and to publish Switzerland’s contracts with vaccine and drug makers. For its part, Big Pharma must share all intellectual property and know-how within the framework of the C-TAP pool; disclose, in detail, its own and all public investment in Covid-19 technologies; and finally – fundamentally – stop using the global health crisis to gain commercial advantage. 

For more information contact:  

Oliver Classen, Media Director, +41 44 277 79 06,  

Patrick Durisch, Health Policy Expert, +41 21 620 03 06,