The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has unified dozens of pharmaceutical, biotech and specialty pharmaceutical companies - all offering money, products and manpower to get New Orleans and other affected regions some much-needed health care.
The hurricane put tens of thousands of people out of their homes, and the death toll continues to rise. As a Stage 4 hurricane with 140-miles-per-hour winds, Katrina ravaged parts of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, hitting New Orleans Monday, causing the levee that held back Lake Pontchartrain to break, flooding the city.
According to Billy Tauzin, president and CEO of The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) in Washington, as many as 30 health care companies have pledged support for hurricane relief efforts. They have committed nearly $25 million in medicines, medical supplies and cash.
"This disaster is unprecedented in American history and must be met with a firm, long-term commitment to help rebuild the lives of those who are facing unimaginable challenges," said Tauzin, a former congressman for the Gulf Coast area.
While several companies are making cash donations, others are offering matching gift programs, as well, providing incentives for employees to give. Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Amgen Inc. donated $2.5 million and established a company-wide Hurricane Katrina Relief Program in support of humanitarian aid with a special focus on access to health care. The Amgen Foundation also will match all staff contributions toward hurricane relief, and the company is working to make sure its products continue to be distributed to suppliers, physicians and patients.
"The magnitude of the tragedy in New Orleans and the Gulf states has been devastating," said Kevin Sharer, Amgen's chairman and CEO. "The Amgen commitment of $2.5 million is intended to help with the impacted communities' most critical needs, particularly health care."
The lack of health care and patient therapies is a growing concern along the Gulf Coast. The victims include pregnant women about to go into labor and elderly people who desperately need heart medication, as well as diabetics without insulin and cancer patients missing their treatments. There are babies lethargic from the heat and bodies floating in the floodwaters, while high temperatures and stagnant water create concerns of water-borne illness, and the spread of West Nile virus and other infections.
To do its part, San Diego-based Amylin Pharmaceuticals Inc. donated $50,000 to the Pennington Medical Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge to establish an emergency diabetes clinic. The company markets two products for Type I and Type II diabetes: Symlin and Byetta. It also donated $100,000 to the American Red Cross and has agreed to match all employee contributions up to an additional $100,000.
Likewise, companies such as Cambridge, Mass.-based Genzyme Corp., and Frazer, Pa.-based Cephalon Inc. are matching employee donations, and Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., is allowing employees to donate through payroll deductions.
Valeant Pharmaceutical International, of Costa Mesa, Calif., is donating medicines to relief efforts, and matching employee donations. But it also is providing support for any affected employees, and the company is allowing time off for employees that want to provide assistance.
Several other health care companies have offered large sums for hurricane relief efforts, including $1 million from Madison, N.J.-based Wyeth, $1 million from Baxter Healthcare Corp., of Deerfield, Ill.; $500,000 from Becton, Dickinson & Co., of Franklin Lakes, N.J; and $1 million from GlaxoSmithKline, of Research Triangle Park, N.C.
"Like many large companies in the U.S., GSK has a substantial number of employees, more than 1,000, who live and work along the Gulf Coast," the company said in a release.
GSK intends to help its employees and families in the aftermath of the hurricane, and it is matching all donations of its employees and retirees through the United Way.
GSK plans to donate medicines, vaccines and consumer health care products, as well, including toothpaste and toothbrushes and nonprescription medicines.
"Given the extensive damage to basic utility services, a number of prescription medicines such as antibiotics and vaccines are likely to be in high demand," the company said. "GSK's medicines for diabetes, respiratory diseases and other chronic conditions may also be needed by patients."