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Top Drug Exec Sounds Alarm About Island’s Competitiveness

Merck Human Health President David Anstice suggests tax reform, other measures to foster better business climate in P.R.


November 20, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

Merck & Co. Human Health President David W. Anstice alerted Puerto Rico that it must think about where it wants to fit into tomorrow’s global marketplace and work toward that goal.

"Continued investment by the pharmaceutical industry in Puerto Rico depends on the island’s ability to foster an environment that encourages innovation and investment," said Anstice during the Pharmaceutical Industry Association of Puerto Rico’s annual convention. "The island must also be agile enough to respond to the changing marketplace."

According to Anstice, there are five factors that governments must support in order to create an environment that attracts innovative companies.

"These factors are especially crucial for the research-based pharmaceutical industry," said Anstice. "They include continued support of basic medical research; effective intellectual property protection; an efficient and effective regulatory environment; a business environment that is transparent, conducive to free trade and free of corruption; and a free market based on competition and choice."

One of the factors Anstice criticized is the process businesses must go through in Puerto Rico to obtain tax-exempt status. "I can only compare Puerto Rico with Singapore and Ireland because they are emerging markets with quite strong manufacturing centers, [like] the island. My most recent experience with Singapore is that the government is very quick, user-friendly, and customer-oriented. They have a can-do attitude and make commitments they can deliver very quickly.

"I told a Pridco [Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co.] representative that one thing the island can do is to implement a tax reform that will eliminate obstacles, looking for a competitive offering. Puerto Rico must also think 20 years into the future, just as Singapore is doing, and anticipate where industry will go. It seems to me that Puerto Rico has an existing advantage due to industry being here in a large way and this is something very strong to build on. The opportunity exists for Puerto Rico, acting with all the different players together, to anticipate and build the right sort of programs and approaches. Decide that in 20 years you want to be one of the best two manufacturing centers in the world and do it," said Anstice.

He also made reference to factors the island needs to address, such as attracting clinical trials to the island. "Puerto Rico has the ability to have clinical trials done. Merck is now conducting clinical trials in a number of therapeutic areas around the island, including a joint trial with the National Institutes of Health for our investigational HIV vaccine," said Anstice.

"The Caribbean is one of the regions most affected by HIV. People write a lot about Africa and from time to time about other specific countries such as Rumania. But among the Caribbean’s 90 million people, an estimated one million are infected with HIV. Similar to our programs in Africa, we are now implementing programs to support the provision of [pharmaceutical drug] products for HIV. There are concerns raised about the nonavailability of drugs because of their high prices. But we think it’s a much greater issue. To do our part, we provide drugs based on an index of a country’s capacity to pay. Many countries in the Caribbean have low gross domestic product per capita and low incomes, so they get very modest prices where mostly Merck makes no profit," said Anstice.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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