CBI Scene Blog

Harry Potter’s Severus Snape & Big Pharma, a Comparison

Posted by Daria Binder on Sep 18, 2013 11:25:00 AM


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You may be thinking: the pharmaceutical industry has nothing in common with a fictional character in the Harry Potter book series written by J. K. Rowling. For starters, one is a multi-billion dollar a year industry that develops, produces and markets pharmaceuticals used as medications. The other is a wizard.

At first glance, you’re right. However, the aforementioned industry has more in common with that wizard than you think. Now you’re probably thinking, “But…what could that possibly be?!” Calm down, take a deep breath and keep reading because the answer is coming up!

Although one of the best parts of the series is J.K. Rowling’s ability to transport the reader to a different world, another excellent aspect is the character development. And no character bounced between good and evil more drastically than Severus Snape.

Which brings us to the similarity between the pharmaceutical industry and Snape: they’re both misunderstood.

On the surface, the pharmaceutical industry is a multi-billion dollar, for-profit industry.  Prescription drug prices are often too high for consumers to afford. Additionally, the industry has perfected inundating the consumer with more advertisements for prescription drugs than we know what to do with. Typically, these numerous advertisements convince the consumer that they have countless diseases they now need prescriptions to treat. Add on all the scary side effects stated at the end of the commercial or listed in fine print at the bottom of the screen and you could argue the pharmaceutical industry is using scare tactics: evil.

Then there’s Severus Snape. On the surface, he is hostile and antagonizing. He picks on the story’s protagonist. He only wears black and his hair is greasy. He tries to kill Harry Potter on more than one occasion.  He actually does kill Albus Dumbledore – the novel’s wisest character, mentor to Harry, and leader in the fight against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Lord Voldemort. Snape supposedly walked away from the dark side when he became a teacher at Hogwarts. However, you learn that he was only pretending to be a good guy when, in reality, he’s a bad guy. Evil.

But wait! There is more to the pharmaceutical industry than what is on the surface. Shall we delve deeper?

Perhaps you’ve read the blog post by my colleague, Emily Forest, called Challenging Pharma's "Bad Rep." She brings up some good points.

The fact is pharmaceutical companies make drugs that treat, cure and save lives. The extensive testing the industry does in their clinical trials (which, yes, at times involves animals), provides security to the person who is about to swallow a pill to treat anything from the common cold to cancer. The consumer feels secure that not only will they feel better soon, but there have been extensive tests done to decrease the chances of those scary side effects. The pharmaceutical industry does all that it can to not only ensure that you will be treated, but you will be treated safely. Less evil.

You may be asking yourself, “What about the cost of those drugs? Aren’t they still incredibly expensive?” They are. But the cost of pharmaceuticals is not simply pulled out of thin air. On average, the price of bringing a new drug to market is more than $1 billion (with recent analyses stating dozens of drug projects will cost $5 billion per drug). A single clinical trial can cost $100 million. And before a drug can even be tested on humans, R&D enters 5,000-10,000 compounds before one receives approval for testing – this takes years. The only way to come close to covering these costs is to charge the consumer for the product. And even then, many pharmaceutical companies offer Patient Assistance Programs and coupon and co-pay assistance programs to aid those that may not be able to afford drugs otherwise. Even less evil.

Now let’s go a little deeper with Severus Snape. Turns out, all those times you thought he was trying to kill Harry, he was actually trying to save him! When Harry is convinced that Snape is trying to steal the Sorcerer’s Stone for himself, he’s actually trying to ensure that the Stone is not captured by Voldemort. Then there’s that time he was watching Harry play Quidditch and trying to knock him off his broom by cursing him. All the signs were there – he was maintaining eye contact, not blinking, muttering under his breath and Harry, an experienced broom rider, was being bucked around. What really happened was Snape was muttering a counter curse to foil another teacher’s evil plan to kill Harry. Not evil at all!

Nevertheless, we can’t forget that Snape killed Dumbledore. Back to evil again.

Only as Snape is dying, you learn he only killed Dumbledore because Dumbledore instructed him to do so. Dumbledore also instructed Snape to play double agent and pretend to be a loyal supporter of the Dark Lord. Are you asking yourself, “Why would Dumbledore ask this of Snape? And why would Snape agree?” Well, Snape was playing both sides to protect Harry.  By being one of Voldemort’s most trusted advisors, he was akin to every plan and therefore very secretly was able to protect the book’s hero. He wanted to guard Harry because, all his life, Snape was in love with Harry’s mother (murdered by Voldemort) and he wanted to hold on to a living piece of her. It’s a really beautiful turn of events. And, more importantly, it proves that Severus Snape is actually, shockingly, a shining white light of goodness!  

If you haven’t made your mind up yet about whether or not the pharmaceutical industry is good or evil, let’s examine their recent generosity and acts of kindness. In her blog post, Emily lists some charitable programs by pharmaceutical companies, but here are a few more:

  • The Pharmaceutical Industry's Contributions to the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals by Hudson Institute's Center for Science in Public Policy (CSPP) identifies an estimated $94.8 billion in pharmaceutical industry contributions to developing countries over a 12 year period from 2000 through 2011. Donations from 29 pharmaceutical companies consisted of both cash and in-kind contributions of pharmaceuticals. 
  • Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, AstraZeneca, Eisai, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer and Sanofi are participating with the World Intellectual Property Organization, and BIO Ventures for Global Health on WIPO Re:Search. WIPO Re:Search is a searchable database of patented pharmaceutical compounds, technologies, data and know-how that is being made available to speed up research and development for malaria, tuberculosis, dengue fever and Chagas disease.
  • In 2012, 6 pharmaceutical companies made Business Insider’s list of “The 15 Most Generous Companies Of The Past Year”:
    • Pfizer gave over $3.06 billion in cash and products
    • Bristol-Myers Squibb gave over $551 million in cash and products
    • Eli Lilly gave over $597 million in cash and products.
    • Johnson & Johnson gave over $706 million in cash and products
    • Merck gave over $1.26 billion in cash and products
    • Abbott Laboratories gave over $732 million in cash and products

Though defining whether or not the pharmaceutical industry is good or evil is a little less black and white than coming to a decision about a fictional character, I can safely conclude they are both misunderstood. Severus Snape, though clad in black and greasy-headed, always had good intentions, even when his actions seemed malevolent. 

When you look beyond how much money the pharmaceutical industry is making and charging for their products, you find that there is actually a lot of good being provided by the industry giants – from ensuring drug safety, to couponing programs, to charitable efforts. 

The moral of the story? Don’t always judge a book by its cover. Misunderstandings about Severus Snape and the pharmaceutical industry are understandable, but there is more than meets the eye.

Follow Daria on Twitter @Daria_CBI

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