Transcript: Peter Rost Talks Turkey with Ed Silverman

This article contains the full transcription of Ed Silverman's interview with Peter Rost (the briefer, edited interview is available for download as a Windows Media video).

By Ed Silverman and Agnes Shanley

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E.S.: Do you see yourself testifying as an expert in court?

P.R. Possibly. Yes.

E.S.: What do you like about the blogging and to what extent do think it helps your situation, your career? By the same token, you’ve become a lightning rod — your public statements about pricing, your battle with Pfizer, which has belittled some of your blogging. To what extent has it helped your cause? And to what extent has it hurt your cause?

P.R.: I’d like to back up a bit and talk about another matter that may be important: the reason why I spoke out about lower-cost drugs. I always had the dream and objective of one day running a pharmaceutical company. That’s what I wanted to do.

E.S.: You wanted to be a CEO?

P.R.: Yeah. I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t discuss these political issues. I hoped to become a CEO, and do a good job as a CEO and changing some of the practices that pharma does today.

E.S.: So you saw yourself as another Hank McKinnell down the line?

P.R. Well, I thought I would’ve performed better than he did. I would’ve acted differently. But that was my objective.

You know, we all have a dream. I’ve put some of those things in practice when I was running my division in Europe. I dropped prices very significantly. I doubled sales in a couple of years. I did both things — good things for the business, but also something good for society. I had hoped to be able to do that on a bigger scale.

Once, when I was in the situation where Pfizer isolated me, where the drug industry stopped wanting to have me for interviews, that’s when I realized that I’m here, I’m a vice president. This is not moving on. And if I’m going to be able to have an impact, and a chance to do something, this may be my last chance. I was still employed by Pfizer. I was still a vice president. I didn’t know if anybody would listen to me, but that’s when I decided to speak up.

And I didn’t have a significant downside to lose. Pfizer had already isolated me. I was alone in the building with my secretary and nobody else around. I had wanted to achieve change from within. But I decided this was it — it was now or never. And what people didn’t realize was that all interviews had stopped. So it was to take a position. Of course, that worked out much better than I thought in that people really did pay attention.

The second part of that question is about blogging, which was an extension of that, although blogging was really for fun. It’s hard to get in the press. There’s so much to write about. And it’s easy to become a pest. It’s a tough battle. A blog gets you an outlet and you can write whenever you want. Initially, it was fun just to see if I could come up with something to write about every day. Then it turned out to become a good vehicle.

It’s not necessarily something that’s a good thing to do, from a legal point of view, because anything you say obviously, the opposing lawyers can take it, and have taken it, to the judge to use against you. It’s not necessarily something you can use to your benefit. I’m guess I’m the exception to that rule. I’m prone to take a little more risk. And I have an agenda — I want to impact things, irrespective of what happens with the litigation.

And as far as the benefits of blogging are concerned? What I’m doing now is trying to do the right thing and, quite frankly, trying to survive.

You try to push different buttons. You try to do different things and hope something will come out of it. If I keep blogging, will it mean somebody will offer me a job based on something I’ve written? I don’t know. Maybe that’ll happen. It’s a long shot. Will I be able to support myself writing? I don’t know. Five percent of all authors can support themselves. That’s not too many. But five percent can.

You have to have to balls up in the air and hope a few of them work out. Maybe the litigation will work out. I expect it will. I expect it will take five or seven years or 10 years. So I have to support myself until then. So I have to do all these different things. It’s really a fight for survival, but in a way that’s fun. Sure, you can take a job driving cab. That’s a fine job, but after having studied to become an MD, and done all these other things, you really want to use some of that knowledge. And the only way is to do exactly what I’m doing right now, which has been a lot of fun. It hasn’t generated that much money yet, but as I just said, I started working with a new law firm. It seems that things are starting to happen.

E.S.: You talk about having some fun and at same time, using the blog as a primary vehicle to get the message out. What do you think of criticism that the blog content is erratic and at times, haven’t addressed the pharmaeutical industry or its issues at all. And so you’ve diluted your message and created an impression you didn’t want to create — that you’re all over the map. You had this cause, but now you’re cut loose by your former employer, you’re all over the place on the Huffington Post. You even had a public spat with the Huffington Post and it seemed that, instead of sticking to the issues, the passions that drove you, you’ve become someone who’s constantly involved in sniping of some sort, and not even over issues of concern to a public that wants to read about prescription drugs.

P.R.: That’s a good point. Yes, if you work professionally at something and want to become an activist in a particular area, you should just stick to that one message. Quite frankly, my response is “it’s a blog.” It’s not that serious.

E.S.: But don’t you want to be taken seriously after all you’ve been through? You poke your head up, very unusually. To be a whistleblower anywhere is unusual. In the pharmaceutical industry, there are many whistleblower lawsuits filed, but the public doesn’t really know about any of them. It’s not the sort of thing that gets too much publicity. But you pushed yourself out there and stayed out there.

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