Skip to content

Merck River Blindness Case Study Ethics Business

The ethical dilemma in Merck and the river blindness was whether the company should pursue the research which may result in profit, or choose the safer option, that was going for the profit instead of researching the drug. The drug was considered to cure the very deadly and detrimental disease called the river blindness. Decision makers of the company had qualms about this research. The qualm was that the consumers could not afford it. This meant no profit for the company. (Donaldson & Werhane) Looking at Merck’s website, the company clearly reveals its value as: “Our core values are driven by a desire to improve life, achieve scientific excellence, operate with the highest standards of integrity, expand access to our products and employ a diverse workforce that values collaboration.” (Our Values) The company doesn’t mention profit as its primary motive, but instead mentions about improving life. It could be a difficult decision for Merck to decide if it wanted to invest on the research because of the highly competitive market, and the fear of failure. But from what the company has as its core value, it should definitely go for the creation of the drug despite the lack of profit. According to World Health Organization, “Onchocerciasis is a parasitic disease caused by the filarial worm Onchocerca volvulus . It is transmitted through the bites of infected blackflies of Simulium species, which carry immature larval forms of the parasite from human to human. In the human body, the larvae form nodules in the subcutaneous tissue, where they mature to adult worms. After mating, the female adult worm can release up to 1000 microfilariae a day.

Dr. Vagelos said Merck decided to make the drug, Mectizan (known generically as ivermectin), available without charge because those who need it the most could not afford to pay for it.

Taken orally, the drug paralyzes and sterilizes the parasitic worm that causes the illness, Merck officials said. The disease is spread by bites of the black fly, which breeds in fast-flowing rivers, hence the name river blindness. The worm can live in the human body for many years and can grow to two feet in length, producing millions of larvae. Infected people suffer severe itching, skin nodules and a variety of eye lesions. Extreme cases result in blindness.

John Doorley, the executive director of corporate communications for Merck, said the drug would be distributed by Merck with the advice of a review board to be established by the company and the World Health Organization. The organization will distribute the drug within the countries involved.

The medicine kills the worm's larvae and prevents the adult worms from reproducing.

The drug is safe and has minor side effects, Merck spokesmen said. There are reports in some patients of fever, tenderness of lymph nodes and mild hypotension, according to a Merck press release.

The drug would not restore the sight of people already blinded by the disease, but will prevent others from reaching that stage, Dr. Vagelos said.

The drug was developed by Merck, company officials said, and it was previously used to kill worms in livestock and dogs.

Continue reading the main story