AbbVie joins roster of Big Pharmas donating Russian profits as war in Ukraine rages on

As weeks turn into months, the war in Ukraine has prompted a mass exodus of businesses and consumer brands from Russia. The response has been trickier for the pharmaceutical industry, however, torn between humanitarian obligations to provide Russia with essential medicines and condemnation of the country’s aggression against its neighbor.  

This week, AbbVie joined the growing roster of drugmakers that have pledged to donate all Russian profits to Ukrainian relief efforts. The move follows similar vows from Merck & Co., Pfizer, Eli Lilly and GlaxoSmithKline—and it coincides with a renewed philanthropic promise from Swiss pharma Novartis, too.

AbbVie said it will continue to supply its essential medicines in Russia, but it will channel all profits from its sales there toward “direct humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine,” a company spokesperson said over email.

The company's updated response comes about a month after it halted all sales and distribution of its popular aesthetics products in Russia. The drugmaker has also stopped new clinical studies and discontinued enrollment of ongoing trials in Russia and Ukraine, AbbVie’s spokesperson added.

“Our work with nonprofit partners and employees to support humanitarian relief efforts in Ukraine will continue as we hope for a peaceful resolution,” he said.

Worldwide, scores of drugmakers have taken a stand against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations is keeping an ongoing tally of efforts and contributions by Amgen, AstraZeneca, Biogen, Bristol Myers Squibb, Daiichi Sankyo, Astellas, Bayer and many more.

While many companies have ceased investments in Russia and put up a mix of cash and pharmaceutical donations in support of Ukraine, fewer pharmaceutical outfits have agreed to contribute their Russian profits writ large.  

As for those who have, Pfizer last month said it would donate all profits from its Russian subsidiary to “causes that provide direct humanitarian support to the people of Ukraine." That came shortly after the company’s CEO, Albert Bourla, Ph.D., told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” that the company would power down new investments in Russia.

Merck, meanwhile, said late last month that any sales of its essential meds in Russia would go toward humanitarian causes.

GlaxoSmithKline has made a similar pledge.

“Across our business we have stopped advertising and promotional activities in Russia and any profits we make from our operations in Russia in the interim will be used in support of humanitarian relief efforts,” the company says on its website.

Eli Lilly, which has suspended export of nonessential drugs to Russia, has also promised to donate any profits made there to organizations dedicated to humanitarian relief, the company said last month. Just a few weeks back, Lilly said an initial shipment of diabetes medicine had made its way to Ukraine.

Lilly added that as the need for its essential medicines persists, it will continue to deliver drugs for diseases like cancer and COVID-19 to people in Ukraine and neighboring countries.

“While we continue to hope for peace, we are prepared to respond even further to help ease the human suffering caused by this devastating crisis,” Lilly said.

Meanwhile, Novartis on Tuesday topped off its efforts to assist the besieged Eastern European nation. It echoed its earlier condemnation of the war, adding that “continued acts of unprovoked violence are harming innocent people.”

Novartis said it has delivered more than 1 million packs of antibiotics, painkillers, heart meds and cancer drugs worth more than $25 million to help maintain supply for people in Ukraine and “in the border areas where people are seeking refuge.”

Novartis has also pledged $3 million to start to charities supporting refugees and displaced people in Ukraine and bordering countries.

The Swiss pharma juggernaut says it’s committed to provide its meds to patients “in every country where we operate,” though it’s being “careful to comply with the international sanctions imposed upon Russia.”

“Our thoughts are with the citizens of Ukraine,” the company said. “Novartis will continue to contribute to the humanitarian efforts in and for the country's people.”