Restless Development’s Multimedia lead, Thom Flint, was recently given a sneak-preview of Stop AIDS’ new game Pharmadness  . It  places you in the (no doubt very expensive) shoes of a pharmaceutical company CEO – find out how he got on as he attempted to balance his  company’s profit with his  conscience.  

The game is being released as part of the Missing Medicines campaign.  It  calls for a new global agreement on the way we research and develop  new medicines – a move that could improve the lives of millions of people that live with HIV & AIDS.


So, first job’s first: name my new company. I decide to combine my surname with the name of a well-known pharmaceutical company, which results in Pflinter. Obviously.

What's in a name?
Also, the music on the title screen is brilliant. A jaunty mix of Sherlock and Pirates of the Caribbean – worth checking out the game for that alone

Second job’s second: learn how to play the game. My super helpful PA appears on screen and gives me the basics.

She's super helpful
She’s super helpful

I’m given a selection of drugs to research, obviously opting for the treatments that are a: super easy to research and b: will generate the most profit. Immediately I’m feeling more like a pharma CEO.

Looks complicated...
It looks complicated but really isn’t – I’ve basically got to make sure I’m generating at least 20% profit each year to keep the shareholders happy, ergo keeping me in work

My initial drug of choice is a copy of an already-existing cancer treatment. This means it’s easy to research (it’ll only take 1 year!) and will be worth many monies when complete because cancer affects people and countries who can afford to pay top dollar for treatment. CHA-CHING.

Year 1 flies by and the board tell me they’re super happy with my work.

Being a pharma CEO is easy
Being a pharma CEO is easy


My new cancer treatment is complete, I’ll stick with the default name as I’m all pun-ned out after my Pflinter effort earlier on. (Plus, you know, I’ve got to do some actual work at some point today.)

This counts as work...right?
This counts as work…right?

Time to choose what to research next. The options are handily divided up into ‘non-vital’ and ‘vital’ depending on whether they’ll treat life-threatening conditions or not.  However, the non-vital drugs are much easier to research…and are worth more money…money = profit = happy board, sooooo let’s go for a drug that treats male pattern baldness.

Vital vs non-vital
Decisions, decisions

Skip to the end of year 2, and once again I’ve smashed it. Things are going swimmingly.

Smashed it
Smashed it



…this do-gooder shows up.

Consequences schmonsequences
Consequences schmonsequences

As a pharma CEO I’ve got little time or patience for ‘patient’s rights’ campaigners. I’m here to make PROFIT, people, not treat the sick.

The do-gooder introduces a new aspect to the game: mortality rates:

This spit just got real
This spit just got real

Then a video plays…

Sound the Claxtons!
Sound the Claxton!

It contains the story of a lady in the UK who has had to wait 9 months to be seen by a doctor about her cancer. (9 months!?). My conscience starts to bother me at this point, but I push it to the back of my mind and remember to focus on all that lovely, lovely money.

During year 3 my PA informs me that the ‘pneumonia bacteria is evolving’ and I might want to invest in research for new antibiotics. Let’s wait and see how much time/money that’s going to cost before making a decision.

I'm assuming this isn't like Pikachu turning into Raichu...
I’m assuming this isn’t like Pikachu turning into Raichu…

Anyway; Year 3 results – I’m the best CEO EVER.

Two little ducks, 22. (You sunk my battleship!)
Two little ducks, 22%. (You sunk my battleship!)

Oh hang on, another one of these depressing videos. This one’s about a lady who’s supposed to be shelling out £69,000 for her cancer treatment because it’s not available on the NHS. Turns out £69,000 is the going rate for someone’s life – who knew!?

£69,000 is not something I happen to have lying around...
£69,000 is not something I happen to have lying around…


It’s during year 4 planning that I start to feel something that people call ‘guilt’. These videos are getting to me. I decided to pump more money into research, taking some away from marketing and lobbying. Hopefully I’ll still hit that 20% profit though…

It's only a 10% difference - that won't matter...
It’s only a 10% difference – that won’t matter…

I don’t. 19% is deemed unacceptable and the board tell me I’ve only got one more chance! Even after my tremendous 3 years service up to now – these people are vultures. VULTURES.


Video time. This lady is suffering from something called mycetoma. She’s had it for 20 years(!? that’s probably longer than some of you have been alive!). The video itself is quite graphic and it turns out there’s simply no decent treatment for it because the majority of those that suffer with the condition don’t have a lot of money, ergo companies like mine don’t bother researching new drugs to treat it.

No money = no new treatment. Simple.
No money = no new treatment. Simple.

I’m starting to see a pattern here.


The guilt is growing, but I know where my responsibilities lie. I freeze research on a new HIV drug and invest everything on treating ‘Double Chin Syndrome’.

The results speak for themselves.

All the 2s, 22. (You sunk my battleship!)
All the 2s, 22%. (You sunk my battleship!)

Another video. This one contains stories of people suffering from drug-resistant TB (there are 600,000 of them worldwide apparently). The side-effects from the medication they’re on sound absolutely horrific but as there’s no new treatment available they’ve got little choice.

Not a choice I'd like to have to make...
This is what happens when you’re ON treatment


RIGHT. I’ve had enough. These ever-climbing mortality rates and videos have finally convinced me to sort this mess out. I stop research on these ‘non-vital’ drugs and plough money into researching a new Hepatitis C drug.

First year goes well. Maybe I can balance profit and conscience after all…

Conscience = profit...?
Conscience = profit…?

The next video is all about HIV, and specifically children that are affected by it. There’s no child-specific treatment available (children haven’t got any money, ergo why would I research new drugs for them!?) so they’re forced to take the incredibly toxic adult medication, or nothing at all.

Children obviously have no funds, so won't get treatment. Maybe the issue here is pocket money?
Children obviously have no funds, so won’t get treatment. Maybe the issue here is pocket money?


Another pattern is emerging here – either suffer with a terminal illness, or suffer with the side-effects of the few treatments that are available. Choices, choices.

My profits look like they’re going to take a dive in year 7  but I plough on with my world-saving plan anyway.

I need this to remain above 20% at the end of the year...
I need this to remain above 20% at the end of the year…

And manage to scrape 21% – keeping me in work. For now.

Good enough...just.
Good enough…just.

Then this happens:

'Pandemic' you say? How bad can it be, really?
‘Pandemic’ you say? How bad can it be, really?


Being a board game connoisseur, I’ve dealt with many a Pandemic before, so I’m pretty confident I can sort this one out. I’ll just need to research some new antibiotics. Easy.

Good grief, those mortality rates have skyrocketed. This is bad…

Over 11,000,000 dead in ONE YEAR? Yikes.
Over 11,000,000 dead in ONE YEAR? Yikes.

Let’s crack on with researching these antibiotics – should only take 10 years or so with my current funding/research model apparently…

It's just a sniffle, I'll be fine
It’s just a sniffle, I’ll be fine

Let’s get these antibiotics researched!

I'm sure there's a lesson here...
I’m sure there’s a lesson here…

WHAT? DEAD? I can’t be dead! I’ve got so much money! (Also, what kind of game doesn’t offer you extra lives? ‘Real life’? No thanks.)

It seems there’s a lesson to be learnt here – ‘This is a case study in the perils of a profit-driven research model‘. I mean, talk about kicking someone when they’re down. Where were you 8 years ago??

'Hate to say "I told you so"'
‘Hate to say “I told you so”‘

Oh, right. Maybe I should’ve listened back then…

I’m given the option to check out some ‘new rules’ which make a huge amount more sense that the original ones.

Don't hate the player, hate the game.
Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

If you want to see these new rules yourself, why not have a go and see if you fare better than me?

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My 10 years as a pharma CEO

by wearerestless Reading time: 6 min