Drug companies risk Trump’s wrath as they march for science

Alnylam staff member Chris Theile works on signs for this weekend’s March for Science.

Source: Alnylam
Alnylam staff member Chris Theile works on signs for this weekend’s March for Science.

The March for Science, happening Saturday in more than 600 cities across the world, is an explicitly political movement. But it’s trying hard to be seen as nonpartisan.

“The goal of the march itself is to highlight the valuable public service role science plays in society and policy and demonstrate the deep public support for science,” the organizers say on the March’s website. “We take strong stands on policy issues based on the best available scientific evidence, but we will not let our movement be defined by any one politician or party.”

Still, the idea for a science march originated after the election of President Donald Trump, whose views on climate change (calling it a hoax perpetuated by China), vaccines (repeating discredited claims about their safety) and aid workers helping fight Ebola in Africa (“People that go to far away places to help out are great — but must suffer the consequences!”) have rattled the scientific community.

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And that presents a bit of a conundrum for the drug industry — dependent on support for science, but heavily regulated by the government.

“A march on Washington under the idea of a march around science could be considered a partisan protest of the Trump administration,” said Brian Skorney, an analyst with Robert W. Baird. “I think the industry’s careful that they don’t want to be seen as an opposition force.”

Drug companies have a lot at stake when it comes to the U.S. government, Skorney pointed out. They depend on the Food and Drug Administration to evaluate their products, and are already enduring onslaughts of pressure around their pricing.

So they’re proceeding with caution. But they are proceeding.

The March for Science in Boston counts biopharma companies Intellia Therapeutics, Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals and Warp Drive Bio among its sponsors. In San Francisco, Alphabet’s life sciences company Verily is on the list.

And it’s not just younger, smaller life science companies supporting the march. Drug giant Pfizer is in, too, producing a video proclaiming: “Let’s not imagine a world without science. Our scientists are the cornerstone of what we do. We’re proud to stand behind the #ScienceMarch.”