Article by Amanda Ansari.
Philip Morris sealed the deal of a £1.1-billion-pound takeover of inhaler company Vectura despite concerns voiced by health professionals. Vectura, the asthma inhaler company was removed from a pharmaceutical conference after academics and health professionals protested over the takeover by the cigarette company, Philip Morris International (PMI). The cigarette company reached an agreement after more than half the shareholders at Vectura agreed to sell their stock and it is now in their final stages of making the UK asthma inhaler company private. PMI has now acquired nearly 97% of the valid acceptances and can now acquire any remaining shares, as the deal had become unconditional in September when it obtained majority control.
The cigarette company’s controversial £1.1-billion acquisition has gathered criticism from health organisations, questioning the ethics of a cigarette maker owning a drugmaker that develops treatments for respiratory illnesses. Although, PMI has stated that the inhaler company is going to help them accelerate their efforts to move away from cigarettes and even nicotine and treat the illnesses that their products create. Since cigarettes are the only legal consumer product that kills up to half of their users when they are consumed as the manufacturer intended. PMI is one of the global leaders in cigarette supply chains as cigarette sales have steadily declined over the past 20 years, tobacco companies are attempting to market themselves as health care companies with visions of a smoke-free future. One of their strategies to combat cigarette smoking was to manufacture non-cigarette nicotine products, such as nicotine replacement therapy, in order to aid people to quit smoking. Acquiring Vectura has been PMI’s latest strategy to diversify its portfolio as Vectura manufactures inhalation products such as inhalers and nebulisers that help people who have asthma, or people with lung disease to breathe.
The controversy began on the 15th of September when the deal became official. PMI will profit from the very illnesses it creates, by acquiring Vectura because nebulisers are usually prescribed for patients with tobacco-related lung disease. PMI’s interest in Vectura is to generate $1 billion in annual net revenue from Beyond Nicotine sources by 2025 meaning that the cigarette company will expand its development of electronic cigarettes and start profiting from other inhaled devices, despite limited evidence that supports electronic cigarettes helping people to quit smoking. In fact, evidence shows that there are damaging health effects. If PMI genuinely wanted to move beyond nicotine, they should instead reduce or stop their aggressive promotion and sale of all tobacco products. The consequence of this takeover is that the medical and research workforce are fighting against respiratory disease and many public health organisations and medical professionals will not want to work with tobacco companies such as PMI. This is in line with the World Health Organizations (WHO) Framework Convention on tobacco control. This will lead to a conflict of interest between researchers who received help and support from Vectura, for publishing their findings and presenting their work at conferences.
Companies, health professionals, and researchers are now linked to big tobacco through Vectura, which is going to restrict them from fully participating in the medical and scientific community. The European Respiratory Society, for example, excludes participation of those with links to the tobacco industry. Additionally, healthcare professionals will now be looking for alternative devices for their patients that are not going to contribute to the profits of PMI or Vectura, also, people with lung disease may be reluctant to use such devices that are linked to tobacco companies. This shift could lead to poorer clinical outcomes, as well as lower adherence and new side effects. Another concern of healthcare professionals is that this takeover might be used to buy ‘a seat at the table’ with healthcare policymakers, which could lead to the tobacco company potentially having a say in the development of government policies.