TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — President Donald Trump lashed out at the CEO of the nation’s third-largest pharmaceutical company after he resigned from a federal advisory council, citing the president’s failure to explicitly rebuke the White nationalists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier wrote on Twitter Monday that “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which runs counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.”
Frazier is one of the few African Americans to head a Fortune 500 company.
Trump is under increasing pressure to call out the White supremacist and hate groups involved. He lashed out almost immediately on Monday following the resignation, saying on Twitter that Frazier will now “have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”
Drugmakers have come under withering criticism for soaring prices in the U.S., including by Trump, though he has yet to act on a promise to contain them.
With the barb, Trump appeared to attack an industry executive who has maneuvered to push prices lower, at least on some drugs.
Last year, the company launched a new hepatitis C medicine at a big discount to the drugs already on the market. In January, Merck reported that since 2010 its annual average net price increase has ranged from 3.4 percent to 6.2 percent, roughly half its list price increases. Other drugmakers have hiked list prices 20 percent or more every year and launched new drugs with eye-popping price tags.
Merck also is developing cheaper versions of complex injected medicines called biologics that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
The exchange lit up social media early on Monday, with many people lauding Frazier and blasting the president.
There was also support from other executives.
Unilever CEO Paul Polman on Twitter wrote, “Thanks @Merck Ken Frazier for strong leadership to stand up for the moral values that made this country what it is.”
Frazier, who grew up in a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia, resigned days after one person was killed and others wounded in violent clashes between white supremacists and protesters.
Frazier and his siblings were raised by their janitor father after their mother died when he was very young. He has earned a reputation as a risk taker in the drug industry, pouring money into daunting research areas, particularly trying to develop a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.
Frazier is not the first executive to resign from advisory councils serving Trump.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk resigned from the manufacturing council in June, and two other advisory groups to the president, after the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. Walt Disney Co. Chairman and CEO Bob Iger resigned from a White House advisory council for the same reason.
The manufacturing jobs council had 28 members initially, but it has shrunk since it was formed earlier this year as executives retire, are replaced, or, as with Frazier, Musk and Iger, resign.
Follow Linda A. Johnson at https://twitter.com/LindaJ_onPharma