In recent days the growing outrage over sky-high drug prices has attracted the attention of everyone from Bernie Sanders to President Trump in his State of the Union Address. But until today there was little that patients, drug company employees, and mutual fund investors could do to speak out in a meaningful way on the issue. The Shareholder Democracy Network (www.ShareholderDemocracy.com) is changing all of that by opening up the proxy resolution process previously reserved for investors so that all concerned stakeholders can be heard.
The new Web platform at www.ShareholderDemocracy.com will allow thousands of Americans to vote on pending 2019 shareholder resolutions offered by members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) at six pharmaceutical companies: AbbVie, Biogen, Bristol Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer. Various concerns about escalating drug prices have been raised in connection with all these companies. (See below.)
Future Shareholder Democracy Network ballots will focus on such issues as gun safety, labor practices, climate change, and opioids. Shareholder Democracy Network ballots address the same proxy ballot measures once available only to retail and institutional investors, the former of which find it challenging to navigate the legal organization and language of official proxy statements and the latter of which often feel constrained to rubberstamp company views.
David Apgar, the founder of Shareholder Democracy Network and former small-business fund manager and author of Risk Intelligence (Harvard Business 2006), said: The Shareholder Democracy Network creates a new hotline that every concerned American can use to get their message through to corporate America. A more open shareholder proxy process means more accountability ¦ something that is urgently needed today. Unfortunately, most mutual fund shareholders have no clue what is in their holdings and, if they do, have no way to leverage that indirect ownership. And very few direct shareholders have the time and resources to wade through murky shareholder proxy materials. As a result, Big Pharma CEOs and boards have raised drug prices with little fear of a backlash that they will ever hear about, much less feel the sting of. We want all stakeholders to have a voice, not just the handful of investors who still own shares directly.
Heidi Welsh, the founding executive director of the Sustainable Investments Institute (Si2), said: The Shareholder Democracy Network offers the regular person on the street a chance to weigh in directly with companies, the same way that big investors can. Most peoples only exposure to the stock market is through retirement mutual funds, and they dont have the right to vote on individual resolutions. So, this is an interesting approach that bears watching.
Welsh has analyzed and written about corporate responsibility issues since the late 1980s, providing impartial research to large institutional investors on a wide range of contentious issues.
The companies highlighted on the Shareholder Democracy Network ballot have been at the center of concerns about rising drug prices:
- From 2015 to 2018, AbbVie hiked the price of its immunosuppressant Humira by 50 percent to over $5,000 per month. Bayer hiked the price of its liver cancer drug Nexavar to $18,670 per month and Amgen similarly raised the price of its anti-inflammatory drug Enbrel to $2,700 per month.
- Biogens spinal muscular atrophy drug Spinraza costs $375,000 per year, also the price of Catalyst Pharmaceuticals potassium channel blocker Firdapse — which drew fire from Bernie Sanders since it used to be available free.
- Johnson & Johnsons hypertension drug Tracleer costs nearly $3,000 per month.
- Britains competition authority fined Pfizer for boosting the price of its epilepsy drug phenytoin by 2600 percent.
From 2015 to 2018, an index of autoimmune drug prices rose 40 percent, cancer drugs 31 percent, multiple sclerosis drugs 31 percent, and diabetes drugs 26 percent, while consumer prices rose just 5.6 percent. AARP found that drug prices rose four times faster than inflation in 2017, while Consumer Reports reported that one in four Americans had trouble paying for drugs they needed last year.
What are stakeholders being asked to weigh in on via the ShareholderDemocracy.com drug-pricing ballot? In the six highlighted shareholder proposals:
- Shareholders ask Abbvie to strengthen board oversight of risks related to drug-price increases. The supporting statement makes references to Humira price increases.
- Shareholders ask Biogen, Bristol Myers Squibb, and Eli Lilly to report how senior-executive compensation plans reflect risks related to drug-price increases. The Biogen supporting statement refers to the high cost of Spinraza.
- Shareholders ask Johnson & Johnson to assess risks related to drug-price increases arising from barriers to generic drug competition. The supporting statement refers to a report on complaints from generic drug manufacturers about such barriers.
- Shareholders ask Pfizer to report on senior-executive compensation recouped each year under its claw-back policy for misconduct. The supporting statement refers to a 2018 settlement of claims that side payments on some of its drugs amounted to Medicare fraud.
The drug-pricing proxy resolutions in the Shareholder Democracy Network drug-pricing ballot are sponsored by Mercy Investment Services, an asset management program for the collective investment and professional management of the endowment, operating, and other funds of the Sisters of Mercy and the eligible sponsored and co-sponsored ministries that choose to participate, all of which are tax-exempt organizations engaged in religious and charitable activities.
Want to learn more about 2019 proxy resolutions on drug pricing and other issues? The Shareholder Democracy Network recommends the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) proxy season briefing on February 21st.
ABOUT THE SHAREHOLDER DEMOCRACY NETWORK
The Shareholder Democracy Network reconnects our companies with their community. The Shareholder Democracy Network makes your voice heard “ as a customer, employee, investor, or mutual fund shareholder “ in the boardrooms of our companies. www.ShareholderDemocracy.com.
The Shareholder Democracy Network lets you have more impact on the businesses driving issues that matter to you than polls, letters, and green funds. In fact, it will soon let you vote on every major shareholder proposal currently filed under whatever issues you select.
EDITORS NOTE: A streaming audio recording of the news event will be available on the Web as of 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT on February 12, 2019 at http://www.shareholderdemocracy.com.
Max Karlin, (703) 276-3255 or [email protected]