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People, Not Profit: Merck’s Battle Against River Blindness

Join the Robert Zicklin Center for Corporate Integrity as we welcome Dr. Roy Vagelos, Retired Chairman and CEO of Merck, for the inaugural seminar in the HSBC Student Series on Ethics and Accountability. Dr. Vagelos will explain how he decided to spend millions on a public health project that would never pay for itself. This program is part of Baruch College's Ethics Week 2014.
When  Mar 18, 2014
from 12:45 PM to 01:45 PM
Where  Baruch College’s Newman Conference Center, 151 E. 25th St. (between Lexington & Third), Room 750
Contact Name 
Contact Phone  646-312-3231
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Click here to watch People, Not Profit: Merck's Battle Against River Blindness

About the Program

The inaugural seminar in the HSBC Student Series on Ethics and Accountability will feature past Merck CEO Dr. Roy Vagelos.  Dr. Vagelos will take us back to 1978, when he was the head of the Merck research labs.  Merck had spent many years developing a drug to combat a variety of diseases in farm animals. After Merck began selling the drug for use as a veterinary medicine, a scientist at the company discovered that it might also be extremely effective in fighting river blindness, a human disease that plagued millions in the Third World.  Vagelos knew that developing the drug for human use would be time consuming, expensive and risky; he also knew that virtually none of the communities afflicted with river blindness would be able to afford to buy the drug.  Vagelos nonetheless instructed Merck to proceed with the research. His decision would lead to the Mectizan Donation Program (MDP), which has overseen the donation of more than 1 billion treatments to more than 117,000 communities in 28 countries in Africa, six countries in Latin America, and in Yemen. The program has served as a model for corporate social responsibility ever since.

About the Speaker

Dr. P. Roy Vagelos, M.D., C’50—a  Vagelosscientist, doctor, businessman, visionary, and philanthropist—earned his B.S. in chemistry from the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania and his medical degree from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. His accomplishments as a physician and academic and corporate leader continue in his visionary emphasis on nurturing young peoples’ passion to create a sustainable energy future.

After serving as Senior Surgeon and then Section Head of Comparative Biochemistry from 1956 to 1966 at National Institutes of Health, Dr. Vagelos became chairman of the Department of Biological Chemistry in Washington University’s School of Medicine in St Louis, MO, becoming the Director of the University’s Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences. After much success as a doctor, scientist and academic—the author of more than 100 scientific papers and an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society—in 1975 Roy joined the pharmaceutical company Merck, becoming chief executive officer (1985) and chairman (1986).

Dr. Vagelos retired from Merck in 1994, but continues to be an active philanthropist and visionary.  He has been awarded multiple prestigious awards for his scientific discoveries and industry leadership: the American Chemical Society’s Enzyme Chemistry Award in 1967, the National Academy of Science's Chemistry in Service to Society Award in 1995, the National Business Hall of Fame in 1995, Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award in 1998, and the Franklin Institute’s Bower Award for Business Leadership in 1999.

Dr. Vagelos has served on the board of trustees at Penn from 1988 until 1999—as chair from 1995 to 1999.

The HSBC Student Series: Bringing today’s ethical challenges to tomorrow’s business leaders

The HSBC Student Series on Ethics and Accountability is a four-part discussion focused on a broad range of current ethical issues in business, finance, government, law, and society. The programs are designed by expert faculty to increase student engagement in business ethics matters.  On behalf of Baruch College, the Robert Zicklin Center for Corporate Integrity thanks HSBC for its generous support.

Program Co-Sponsors

Baruch_logoThe Sustainable Business Club, Baruch's Net Impact Chapter (SBC) - A student organization dedicated to issues such as corporate social responsibility, social entrepreneurship, green marketing, socially responsible investing, and renewable energy.

The SBC's mission is to empower a diverse community of leaders who use business to make a positive social, environmental, and economic impact on the world. Visit SBC's homepage to learn more.


Student CPT LogoStudent Center for Public Trust at Baruch College - The vision of the Student CPT is to provide students with opportunities to develop a real awareness of ethical issues in order to provide a moral and ethical foundation for all future endeavors and to create a better, more thoughtful world. Visit CPT's homepage to learn more.


12:00 pm - Registration and lunch
12:45 pm - Presentation


Complimentary pre-registration is required to attend this program. Register online, by phone or e-mail:

  1. Complete the online registration form
  2. Call us at 646-312-3231
  3. E-mail us at

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