04/29/2006 07:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hank McKinnell Asks for Internal Review of Pfizer's Philippines Lawsuit

Last week Pfizer CEO Hank McKinnell was the object of a lot of attention. The AFL-CIO rented an airplane to fly a banner saying "Give it back Hank," to protest his pay hike and $83 million pension, despite a 46 percent decline in the Pfizer share price under his leadership. Earlier the New York Times and other publications ran a number of stories explaining how McKinnell has effectively manipulated third parties who should be looking out for shareholders, rather than him.

My colleague Judit Rius began collecting signatures to ask Stanford to consider kicking McKinnell off an advisory board over his bullying of Philippine drug regulators. But my favorite story of the week involves an encounter between Hank McKinnell and Dan Murphy, a medical student at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Dan Murphy was attending the tapping of the "the End of AIDS: A CNN Global Summit with President Clinton." Hank McKinnell was there to say how much Pfizer is doing to help the poor. But Murphy had been following Pfizer's ligitation in the Philippines -- a case where Pfizer has tried to intimidate government officials by suing them in their personal capacity, so they won't take very modest measures to obtain cheaper sources of Pfizer medicines.

Murphy buttonholed McKinnell at the event. This is Murphy's account:

I cornered Hank post filming and we had a nice argument. I told him that I was a med student that I was upset about the lawsuit against the Philippines, and that he was going to be facing a lot more angry students if they didn't end it. He said it wasn't about generics, it was about protecting patents and we spent most of our discussion arguing about this. Towards the end of the discussion he started saying that it didn't matter, because he had ordered a review of the matter and would be ending it if it wasn't about "legitimate protection of patented medicines". Eventually his people dragged him away.

I like this story because at that moment, McKinnell had to deal with someone who really did care about the poor, and who had the guts and the knowledge to engage him personally. If more people did this, companies like Pfizer would probably behave better.

But there is also more. By talking to McKinnell personally, and getting him to talk about the case, Hank is now more accountable. He knows about the Philippines litigation, he is reviewing it himself, and now everyone knows that, and so whatever happens, we know it is Hank's call.

A word of advice to Hank. Drop the suit. Now.

More on Pfizer v. Philippines here: