Novartis chief breaks silence and takes on animal activists
By Andrew Jack in London and Francesco Guerrera in New,York
Published: October 5 2009 03:00 Last updated: October 5 2009 03:00
Novartisis taking the un-usual step of openly fighting back against animal rights activists who are waging a campaign of intimidation against the company.
Daniel Vasella, chief executive of the Swiss pharmaceutical group - a target of extremists who desecrated his family grave in July - has warned some 140 people whosent him critical e-mails that they were associating themselves with criminal activity.
His comments mark the most aggressive response yet by a senior pharmaceutical executive. Most have preferred not to engage in public debate with extremists and to retain a low profile to avoid being targeted.
The action comes after extremists escalated in mid-August their demands for Novartis to sever links with Huntingdon Life Sciences, the UK-based animal testing centre. They warned Mr Vasella that otherwise they would not return an urn containing the ashes of his grandmother.
In a letter seen by the Financial Times, Mr Vasella defends the company's commitment to researching medicines, stresses his commitment as a doctor to alleviating patient suffering, and says anyone who tries to stop medical progress should be "ashamed".
He warns: "We strongly condemn the use of violence and terrorist tactics . . . as a substitute for meaningful, productive dialogue. As the author of the e-mail received, you should be aware that willingly or not you are associating yourself with criminal activity, such as extortion and blackmail."
On a website called Backbite that posts extremists' messages, one warns below a photo of Mr Vasella's family grave: "If you wish the urn that was taken from the grave to be returned then you need to publicly finish with Huntingdon Life Sciences immediately."
Mr Vasellabroke with the industry's usual silence over animal testing, sayingNovartis had not worked with Huntingdon "for some time". For security reasons it would not release the names of those companies with which it does work. He said Novartis was committed to "very high standards" for animal testing.