Capitalizing on the Flu

Flu pandemic would spark enough fear to make it a greed pandemic


Rumsfeld's drug connections

There are other reasons people are leery of Tamiflu. Given the rip-offs in Iraq and after the hurricanes, people are understandably interested in knowing just who is going to get rich off the plague. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, himself former CEO of drug company Searle, currently owns stock in the one company that owns Tamiflu patents—to the tune of at least $18 million. Rumsfeld says he understands why people might question his holdings, but selling them would raise even more questions. So he is hanging on to what he's got.

A flu pandemic could mean a reduction in travel. A recent Citicorp report says likely economic losers would include airlines (such as British Airways, Lufthansa, and Air France), insurers like AXA, and luxury-goods conglomerates such as Richemont.

The report adds: "Winners could include drug makers such as Gilead Sciences, Roche, GlaxoSmithKline, and Sanofi-Aventis. Other possible winners are hospital chains such as Rhoen Klinikum, cleaning-products makers such as Henkel, Ecolab, and Clorox, as well as home entertainment companies such as Blockbuster and Nintendo."

In order for the pharmaceutical companies to profit from making flu vaccine in the administration's $7.1 billion pandemic flu plan, Bush now is proposing to ban liability suits against them except in cases of willful misconduct. As for those injured by a flu vaccine, possible lawsuits remain an open question.

With a worldwide market estimated at more than $1 billion, there's big money in a flu plague. Kimberly-Clark's Chinese subsidiary is already ramping up manufacture of new lines of medical masks, wipes, and hand-washing liquids, according to Business Week, with consulting firms Kroll and Booz Allen Hamilton selling flu preparedness advice to companies and governments. "Crisis is an opportunity as long as you see it first," Pitney Bowes's Christian Crews tells the magazine.

If all Bush wants to accomplish is to see the drug industry make more money, any fight against the flu will be uphill.


Additional reporting: Isabel Huacuja and Ali Syed

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