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Groups push drug makers to help poor

TRENTON, N.J. -- A coalition of faith-based investor groups has persuaded drug maker Schering-Plough Corp. to improve its program providing free and discounted medicines to the poor and is making similar demands on other major pharmaceutical companies.

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, timing its campaign to the current slew of corporate annual meetings, submitted shareholder resolutions demanding more help for poor patients in this country and in developing nations.

The proposals are up for votes this week and next by stockholders of pharmaceutical giants including Pfizer, Merck & Co., and Bristol-Myers Squibb, Daniel Rosan, program director for public health at the Interfaith Center, said yesterday.

''The resolutions are a tactic to make visible our concerns" about the price and availability of prescription drugs, Rosan said. ''Our goal is no less than reshaping the pharmaceutical industry.

''The drug companies can either get out in front and do what's right for shareholders and patients, or they can be stubborn and shareholders are going to be hurt," he said.

Rosan said Kenilworth, N.J.-based Schering-Plough was more receptive than other companies because it needs to strengthen its reputation.

Its chief executive was brought in a year ago to turn around the company amid plunging revenues, government fines and investigations, and other serious prob-lems.

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