Pfizer's Russian profit pledge bears fruit with $5M initial gift to Ukraine, CEO says

After Russia’s war in Ukraine escalated sharply earlier this year, Pfizer swiftly pledged to donate the sum of its Russian profits to causes that provide direct support to the people of Ukraine. Three months later, Pfizer says it’s making good on that promise.

The company’s first down payment of $5 million will be spread out among eight nongovernmental organizations to support humanitarian relief and response efforts, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Ph.D., said in a statement Wednesday. That cash will go toward food security and support services plus education for children and “other pressing needs of the people of Ukraine,” Bourla said.

The $5 million comes on top of all of Pfizer’s other previously announced donations to Ukraine, which were put up by the company, its charitable organization The Pfizer Foundation and more than 4,500 staffers who donated through the drugmaker’s Give Forward program.

“We will continue to divert these profits to the Ukrainian people until peace is achieved,” Bourla said.

Simultaneously, Bourla on Wednesday said Pfizer would “stand firm” in its decision to cease clinical trials in Russia and halt all investments in local manufacturing.

The helmsman trumpeted Pfizer’s “novel approach” to the war in Ukraine, noting biopharmas can’t simply up and leave the way corporations such as Starbucks and McDonald's have.

“[W]e in the biopharmaceutical sector have had a historical exemption from economic sanctions on a so-called 'humanitarian' basis, as we have an obligation to deliver our lifesaving medicines and vaccines to patients regardless of the circumstances,” the CEO explained.

Pfizer could have used this exception as an “excuse” to carry on with business as usual, Bourla said. Instead, the company struck a balance between continuing to serve patients and helping those whose lives have been upended by the war, he said.

Pfizer’s not alone when it comes to the pharma industry’s humanitarian tightrope walk in Russia. Merck & Co., for instance, recently cited the same obligation to provide its drugs and vaccines to Russian patients. Like Pfizer, Merck has also agreed to channel “any profits resulting from these sales” toward relief efforts.

At the same time, the Kenilworth, New Jersey, drug giant is donating certain products to Ukrainians, such as the COVID-19 med molnupiravir, the asthma inhaler Proventil or the antibiotic Tienam IV. Merck is also furnishing Ukrainian farmers with animal health vaccines.

Elsewhere within the industry, Bristol Myers Squibb has gone a step further than most after it announced in early June that it was transferring its Russian commercial operations to its distribution partner Swixx Healthcare. The process kicked off on May 18 and should help secure access to BMS’ marketed meds in Russia, the company said at the time.