Social responsibility of business takes center stage in Danforth Lecture Series final installment

For 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 — down with the oil and cigarette industries. The public felt drug prices were exorbitant and that the industry had not responded properly to help reduce the spread of HIV and AIDS.

P. Roy Vagelos, M.D., who led pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Inc. during that pivotal era in the industry’s history, will address the issue of corporate leaders’ role in social responsibility at 4 p.m. Monday, Nov. 13, in Graham Chapel.

P. Roy Vagelos
P. Roy Vagelos

The talk is the final installment of the Danforth Lecture Series, which began with “Medicine and Society” and was followed by “Faith and Politics.”

Vagelos’ lecture, titled “The Social Responsibility of Business,” will explore examples of corporate leaders who connect failure to respond to public concerns with negative changes in their industry.

Under Vagelos’ watch as Merck’s chairman of the board and chief executive officer, the company made unprecedented gains in drug discoveries and became the leader in the industry. Among his accomplishments, Vagelos led Merck Research Laboratories in the pioneering development of statin drugs, which lower cholesterol levels.

In 1966, Vagelos chaired the Department of Biological Chemistry in the School of Medicine. In 1973, he led the effort to found the first-ever Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences, which 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 from Merck in 1994.

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

The program will include a panel discussion featuring University-associated business experts. Following Vagelos’ address, panelists will add their perspectives and invite discussion from the audience. A reception in Holmes Lounge will follow.

Panelists joining Vagelos onstage are Mahendra R. Gupta, the Geraldine J. and Robert L. Virgil Professor of Accounting and Management and dean of the John M. Olin School of Business; Judi McLean Parks, the Reuben C. and Anne Carpenter Taylor Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Olin School; and Philip Needleman, former chief scientist of Pharmacia Inc. and Monsanto/Searle and former professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology at the School of Medicine.

The lecture is scheduled to be simulcast on the Medical Campus at the King Center on the seventh floor of Becker Library and on the Danforth Campus at the Gargoyle on the lower level of the Mallinckrodt Student Center.

The Danforth Lecture Series was created as part of the celebration of naming the main campus the Danforth Campus, in honor of the contributions the Danforth family and its foundation have made to the University over the years.

The program is free and open to the public.

For more information, call 935-5285 or go online to