Thursday, January 4, 2018

How pharma executive Barry Sherman used philanthropy as a political tool

Like a lot of people, I've been wondering how long it would take the Canadian press to circle around to the darker side of Apotex CEO Barry Sherman.  During the weeks since Sherman and his wife were found dead in their Toronto mansion in December, the tone of the press coverage has ranged from flattering to unctuous. But this recent article in the Toronto Star revisits some of the ruthless tactics Sherman used to promote his own financial interests. 

Here's an example:

In 1999, Sherman reneged on a $20 million gift to the University of Toronto for its centre for cellular and molecular biology research, giving $1 million instead. He also pulled back $5 million to Mount Sinai Hospital, $225,000 to Princess Margaret Hospital and half of Apotex’s United Way contributions.

He rescinded those donations because Jean Chr├ętien’s government moved to apply retroactive regulations on the drug industry — which Sherman told the Star damaged Apotex’s earning potential. He added that the policy was unlikely to change “unless we get a new prime minister.”

All Toronto Liberal cabinet members opposed the decision, Sherman told the Star, and no MPs were protesting publicly “because it would cost them their job.”

Sherman had also requested that then University of Toronto president Robert Prichard assist Apotex’s lobbying efforts, according to meeting minutes of the university’s executive committee. Prichard wrote to Chr├ętien, telling him that the decision could jeopardize the medical sciences centre, according to a report from the Canadian Association of University Teachers.
“I signed a letter prepared by the university’s development division without considering it carefully,” Prichard told the Star via email Tuesday. “It was a mistake. I apologized to the university community for doing so.”

Apotex would later donate further to the university.

Around the same time, Apotex pulled funding from a clinical researcher, Dr. Nancy Olivieri, a blood disease specialist at SickKids, researching the drug deferiprone in a clinical trial for the drug company.

Olivieri, the lead researcher in the trial, raised concerns about the efficacy and potentially life-threatening risks of the drug, and Apotex threatened legal action and pulled funding.

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