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A Big-Pharma Christmas Tale (with apologies to Charles Dickens)



Rupert Reptilian sat behind his broad, solid-oak desk, riffling through a wedge of paperwork. His slippery tongue slid to-and-fro across his lower lip as he perused the financial accounts of Restorative Pharmaceuticals for the 2018-19 tax year. He grinned; a £5-billion profit was not bad at all for a company he formed less than 10 years ago. And if it wasn’t for those pesky compensation claimants – ‘wasters and parasites, every one of them’ – his rewards would have been even greater. The buzzing of his intercom disturbed Rupert’s musings about the inadequacies of mankind.


‘What do you want now, Sylvia?’ screamed Rupert, spraying spittle over the mouthpiece.


‘Mr Satango is here to see you, sir,’ said his secretary. ‘Shall I send him in?’


‘No, let’s leave him sitting there all day,’ snarled Rupert. ‘You really are a stupid girl – why can’t you show a modicum of initiative now and again.’


Rupert was always delighted to see his protégé, the talented young man he had mentored and moulded into an outstanding employee. Rupert remained seated, as his head of research and development entered the office. Without looking up, he pointed at the chair – smaller than his own – on the other side of his desk. After a few seconds silence, Rupert raised his head.


‘OK Samael, sock it to me – how are the Innerglow drug trials going?’


‘Showing huge potential, I think, Mr Reptilian. The results are kind of staggering. The lives of all 30 patients have been revolutionised.’


‘Sounds fab – tell me more.’


Samael struggled to get his breath. He’d not been this excited since Xmas morning, 1996, when he received his full set of Power Rangers. ‘Just ten weeks on Innerglow has been transformative. These 30 patients – who’d been more miserable than hugely miserable things for several decades – no longer talk about low mood and hopelessness anymore.’


‘Excellent. We must get this world-altering message out to the doctors and general public immediately. These patients must be delighted with our new drug – what exactly are they saying?’


‘’Well Mr Reptilian, they’re not saying much at the moment.’


‘What are they stunned by the metamorphosis that has taken place?’


‘Maybe. They’ve lost the power of speech – but I’m sure it’s only temporary’.


‘Well how do we know they’re much improved if they can’t speak?’


‘The judgement of the five psychiatrists involved in the drug trial – you know the bunch, you took them all out for a 7-course banquet last week and gave them tickets for the next Ed Sheeran concert. Their view is that all the patients are radically improved. Just by observing them it is clear to these objective experts that they are no longer tormented by negative thoughts and suicidal feelings.’


‘We must video these recovered patients immediately for our PR programme.’


‘Ah, that might not be possible, sir. They are all in intensive care at the local infirmary.’




‘Strangely, they all seem to have developed a neurological disorder; the consultant in Accident and Emergency told me that the clinical presentation – comatosed with sporadic twitching – resembled the aftermath of sarin poisoning’.


‘Such a coincidence for this to happen at the same time as our drug trial. What terrible misfortune for us. Let’s keep the lid on this one for the time being, Samael. We’ll file this study in the ‘not for publication’ section until the benefits of our drug are more apparent.’




It was almost midnight by the time Rupert retired to bed. Unusually, he felt on edge but could not explain why. He’d always lived alone – no time for relationships when there’s money to be made – and, strangely enough, women said they found him a bit creepy. The isolation had never bothered him before. But on this occasion, as he pulled the duvet to his chin, he experienced a shiver of vulnerability, as if something terrible was about to happen. The everyday noises he could hear outside – the hum of traffic, the rustle of the trees in his garden, a distant car alarm – sounded different, unreal. Sleep evaded him, as he squirmed, striving to find that elusive position for slumber. After two hours of struggle, he resigned himself to wakefulness and opened his eyes. What he saw caused his mouth to open, and then freeze in a silent scream.


Directly above him, as if suspended from the ceiling, was Sylvia. Or at least a younger version of his secretary, wearing the same outfit as she did on her first day at work for his company.


‘You were nice to me at first,’ said Sylvia, hovering three feet above him.


Rupert frantically rubbed his eyes, trying to erase the disturbing image, but to no avail.


‘You knew I was nervous and unsure of myself, and you were kind and helpful. Well, you were up until that fateful day.’


‘What … what in hell’s name is going on?’ said Rupert, his eyes transfixed on the female form dangling overhead, his body shaking in terror.


‘I’d noticed you’d become touchy-feely with me, hands on my shoulders, your breath on my neck, as you stood behind me reading the letters I was typing. But I tried to tell myself it was all innocent, that it was just the way you were. But then it happened.’


‘I’ve no idea what you’re rambling on about,’ spluttered Frank, dampening the duvet with his saliva.


‘The fateful day when you grabbed my breasts and said, “How about some rumpy-pumpy?”’


‘I was only messing around … it was a bit of fun … I …’


‘I rejected your advance, and since that day my life has never been the same. At work, you’ve treated me like a dog, constantly criticising me, reducing me to tears. More importantly, your lude assault triggered traumatic memories of my step-father molesting me when I was a little girl. I now suffer constant nightmares, my marriage has ended because of my emotional instability, and I’ve attempted suicide on three occasions.’


‘Surely, things can’t be that bad. Try to think more positively. And you might wish to consider Innerglow, our new antidepressant drug, that’s proving to be …’


Sylvia’s form suddenly dropped towards the bed, until her nose was almost touching Rupert’s. ‘YOU MUST REPENT, RUPERT REPTILIAN, CHANGE YOUR WAYS. IF YOU DON’T YOU WILL BE VERY, VERY SORRY’


And with that pronouncement, she was gone. Rupert was staring at his ceiling, telling himself it must all have been a dream, when he heard someone cough. He slowly slithered, face down, to the edge of his bed – leaving a slug-like trail on the sheet – and peered over the side. He gasped; lying on his back on the bedroom floor was the shimmering form of Samael Satango, dressed in his work attire.


Rupert felt disorientated and alarmed. ‘What the fuck are you doing here,’ he screamed. Get out of my …’


‘I used to have morals,’ said Samael, his eyes locked onto those of Rupert who was still peeping at him from the bed above. ‘I opted to do my pharmacology degree because I wanted to help other people, alleviate suffering, reduce pain. I was desperate to be a force for good in this harsh world. And then I met you.’


‘You were naïve and gullible,’ screeched Rupert, spraying spittle around the room from his elevated perch. ‘I trained you up to be an excellent business man. All the time and energy I devoted to your professional development, to raise you to lead my research and development team, and this is all the thanks I get.’


‘You taught me to lie, to distort, to ignore suffering, to go to any lengths to ensure that our drugs appeared safe and effective. All that mattered to you – and, shamefully to me –was that our new medication came out looking good. You often told me, “If the data doesn’t demonstrate that our new drug is safe and effective, run the trial again until it does”.’


‘But look at the success it’s brought us, the profits, the …’


‘I’m shamed by the harm we’ve inflicted on thousands of innocent people.’


‘Collateral damage, Samael – you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few …’


Suddenly, Rupert was rendered speechless by what he witnessed: Samael slowly started to levitate until he was on the same level as his employer, as if lying side-by-side, Rupert on the bed, Samael suspended in the air. At this point, Samael’s head performed a full 360-degree revolution, and then another 90 degrees, leaving the two men nose-to-nose.




Instinctively, Rupert screamed and covered his face with his hands. When he looked again, Samael (or was it his apparition?) had vanished. Rupert felt bewildered; what was happening to him? As he lay in his bed, he could detect droplets of icy sweat on his neck. He remained motionless for several minutes, trying to make sense of all this weird stuff. But then he detected something twitch beside him. He slowly turned over to discover a man he didn’t recognise, clad in pyjamas, lying next to him in bed, his face and limbs repeatedly jerking in a grotesque fashion. On the man’s chest was a sealed letter, addressed with the words, ‘For the attention of Rupert Reptilian’. After waiting for a pause between the convulsions, Rupert reached out and grabbed the letter. He opened it with trembling hands and – while the bed intermittently shook with the poor man’s spasms – he read:


The consent form I signed reassured me that your drug trial was safe and, after many years of misery, I would be likely to benefit from Innerglow. But, as you can see, your drug has caused catastrophic damage to me.


Rupert looked up from the letter. ‘There’s always one or two minor side effects with any drug,’ he said. ‘And besides, you should have read the small print more carefully; my legal team always include a clause about participation being totally at your own risk.’


The twitching man remained silent. Rupert returned to the letter.


After seven days on the drug I became impotent and, two months later, my penis started to sprout another tip.


‘Aren’t two heads better than one?’ asked Rupert, in an attempt to lighten the mood. His bedfellow twitched more violently. 


By week nine of the trial I was rendered mute (hence the written word is now my only means of communication) and, around the same time, these involuntary spasms in my face and limbs emerged.


Rupert put the letter on his bedside table and tried to look the wretched man directly in the eye – a difficult task given it was a moving target. In his most sympathetic tone he asked, ‘But are things really that bad, my friend? And hasn’t our antidepressant drug not enhanced your mood, at least a tiny bit?’


Suddenly, the twitching man’s stare shifted to the ceiling. Rupert followed his gaze to find a luminous message, glowing through the darkness. It read:






Rupert awoke alone in his bed, the morning sunlight creeping in through the curtains as if to symbolise a new era. Something deep within him had changed. He sang What a Wonderful World in the shower. He danced Gangnam Style around his kitchen as he made breakfast. On his way to work he gave £20 to the beggar on the street corner. He bid ‘good morning’ to each stranger he met. When he arrived at the office, he just knew he had to take decisive actions. Things would definitely be different from now on.


So he fired Sylvia and Samael, with immediate effect. And he rang ‘Tosh the Cosh’ – his friend and local gangster – and offered him £15,000 to threaten the participants in the Innerglow trial with the death of a loved one should they pursue a claim against the company. He smirked; from now on he would be changing his ways. And he was not at all sorry.



Photo courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at






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