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Bioethics: Doing well by doing good

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When Jack Douglas helped Reebok develop a human rights program and adopt standards for factories and labor, he didn’t foresee the problems competitors like Nike would eventually have from sweatshop accusations. “Reebok ended up being in a much better place,” he recalls. “It was a very big plus for the company during that time.”

So people are starting to take note as Douglas institutes similar ideas at Millennium Pharmaceuticals, where he’s a senior vice president and general counsel. “There’s an opportunity here for doing well by doing good,” he says. Following the lead of former chief business officer Steven Holtzman, Douglas has pushed for bioethics programs in the company and in the industry. “I recognized that on the front page of the newspaper at least twice a week there was [a story about] an important bioethical issue,” he says. No question there’ll be bioethical debate within the industry and in the public — but Douglas wants to avoid problems as much as possible. “There is a potential risk for misunderstanding and for the public debate to develop in a way that would not be beneficial for drug candidates in the future,” he says.

Leading that debate can be risky itself. Participants will have to “make sure one’s inside house is in order,” according to Douglas, who’s helping implement a bioethics function within Millennium, to be headed up by Gary Cohen. Still in the formative stages, the program could affect how people are trained and how the company approaches various issues. Douglas expects to reach out to other companies to expand the bioethics functions to the rest of the industry. It’s something that’s “important and consistent with the company’s core values,” he says.

But don’t discount potential benefit to the company’s image. “This is a huge plus for our employees and I think it will be a huge plus for our shareholders,” Douglas says.

—Meredith Salisbury