Exploring the social responsibility of business: Final Danforth Lecture features former head of Merck

For many years the pharmaceutical industry was held in high esteem for its contributions to improvements in human health. But in 2004, a Harris poll found that the industry’s reputation had dropped to the bottom ranks, right down there with the oil and cigarette industries.

Why? Because people thought drug prices were exorbitant and that the industry had not responded properly to help reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS.

The fact that corporate leaders recognize their industries’ role in social responsibility is not new, But there are relatively few examples that clearly connect this failure to respond with negative changes. One of the best examples is the pharmaceutical giant, Merck, which was led by P. Roy Vagelos during a pivotal era in the industry’s history.

Vagelos will explore these examples in detail for his talk on “The Social Responsibility of Business” to be held at 4 p.m. Monday, November 13, in Graham Chapel. The program will also feature a panel discussion featuring Washington University-associated business experts. It is the final installment of the Danforth Lecture Series, which began with “Medicine and Society,” and was followed by “Faith and Politics.” The series was created as part of the University’s celebration of naming its main campus as the Danforth Campus, in honor of the contributions Danforth family and its foundation have made to Washington University over the years.

Under his watch as chairman and chief executive officer for Merck & Company, the company made unprecedented gains in drug discoveries and became the leader in the industry. He led the Merck Research Laboratories in the pioneering development of statin drugs.

In 1966, Vagelos chaired the department of biological chemistry in the Washington University Medical School. In 1973 he led the effort to found the first-ever Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences; in doing so he helped establish the model for fusing a medical school with an undergraduate biology department. Two years later, he joined Merck Research Laboratories and served as president until 1985 when he became chairman and CEO; he retired in 1994.

Currently Vagelos is chairman of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Theravance, two biotech companies.

Following his address, panelists will add their perspectives and then invite discussion from the audience. A reception in Holmes Lounge will follow.

Panelists joining Vagelos onstage are: Mahendra Gupta, the Geraldine J. and Robert L. Virgil Professor of Accounting and Management, and dean, John M. Olin School of Business; Judi McLean Parks, professor of organizational behavior, also in the Olin School; and Philip Needleman, former chief scientist of Pharmacia and Monsanto/Searle, and former professor and chair of the department of pharmacology at Washington University’s School of Medicine.

The program is free and open to the public. For more information contact 314-935-5285 or visit the Danforth Lecture Series Web site at http://danforthcampus.wustl.edu/lectures.htm.