3 - SET UP THE SALES CHANNELS
Third, you need to set up the sales channels to connect buyers and black-market sellers. That’s the “support groups” that Dr. Pedersen keeps praising: the ones who, armed with the seal of approval from the UC Davis Professor Emeritus, can claim legitimacy for the treatment even if the source of the substance is itself wholly illegal, a fact that Dr. Pedersen personally admits.
The groups operate with a certain level of secrecy, because they are fully aware, as are Dr. Pedersen and UC Davis, that no matter how you paint it, the black market is unlawful and unregulated. No amount of rhetoric is going to change that. However, as the awareness of the existence of the black market increases, that element of secrecy is fast disappearing. Numerous articles from cat-related websites now openly accept the black market, mention groups and so-called “brands” by name; some go as far as showcasing photos of actual “products,” giving the bootleg trade puzzling visibility, perhaps in an attempt to further establish the black market as mainstream, which is a contradiction in terms.
4 - THE SALES FORCE
It’s not enough to have a product to sell and the means to do so. You also need a network of salespeople to spread the word to owners of cats diagnosed with FIP. Businesses need clients to exist. The black-market buyers are exclusively the desperate owners clinging to any glimmer of hope to save their cats.
Not everyone in the sales force profit financially from the sales. Some do, but not all. Several people who so helpfully spread the word about the “miracle cure” are driven by emotional impulses. They are on a crusade to try to save cats from FIP. It becomes their mission in life. You cannot reason with them. They have blinders on. They will devote a lot of their free time to a cause that entails promoting an illegal substance. They do not question anything. There’s a cult-like quality to the behavior, and their leader is the one incorrectly creditedthe inventor of GS-441524 is M.J. Perron of Gilead Science, Inc. with inventing “the cure,” Dr. Niels Pedersen. Armed with Dr. Pedersen’s and UC Davis’s approval, his personal email advice to individual owners, his encouragement and recognition for their good work , they are convinced their cause is righteous, and you are either with them, or against them.
Of course, you also have the ones with a vested interest in selling: the bootleggers themselves, who line their pockets with the proceeds of their stolen, illegal goods. There is also the people who set up the sales channels, the groups that operate in plain view on Facebook and other platforms. The sole value of those groups and their reason for existing is to link buyers and sellers. Remove that, and they offer nothing of value that can’t be found elsewhere – without the offers to sell black market, of course. Even the veterinarians who participate, several of them US-based, do so because it benefits their practice. Otherwise, why risk their professional license, right?
Two things this motley crew of people with various intentions or agendas has in common is that they don’t like to be reminded that they are promoting a black-market, unsafe substance, or see their offer of a “cure” rejected. In a particularly violent outburst, an admin of one of the GS groups lashed out at a grieving owner who had just lost her cat. You can read about it here – warning: over twenty f-words in that exchange. When I use words like “cult,” “can’t reason”, and “blinders on,” it is not my opinion, but a documented fact, and this is just a glaring example.
There are also distant observers who do not dwell into details and are not active participants. They are aware that the Chinese stole from Gilead Sciences, Inc. and are selling a counterfeit GS-441524, but since no one seems to mind, and UC Davis is on board, they may occasionally share the information in other cat-related groups not necessarily dedicated to FIP. They indirectly increase the informercial’s exposure, thinking they are doing a good thing.
5 - THE SALES PITCH
The sales pitch is simple and deceitful. We can once again thank Dr. Pedersen and UC Davis for rewriting the narrative about treatment options for FIP. It can be summed up like this: nothing works, except GS-441524. Not even GC376, the protease inhibitor that showed promise in selected cases of FIP, characterized as being of inferior efficacy. It is interesting to note that neither Yunjeong Kim and Kyeong-Ok Chang (who developed the 3CL-protease inhibitor later used as GC376) nor the Kansas State University (who holds the rights to GC376) have issued any statements praising the use of black market GC376 or encourage veterinarians and owners to actively seek treatment with their experimental compound. They may have more awareness, and more respect for the rules and regulations than UC Davis has shown in the matter.
The message that there are only two options – “do GS-441524 or see your cat die” – is undoubtedly a powerful one when a person is in a fragile emotional state. So the message gets hammered again and again. There’s always – and very conveniently – someone ready to send the first bottle or the first pills to get started with treatment (it takes 7 to 10 days to receive an order for China, assuming it does not get held up at customs). The sick cat’s owner is not going to look at any other options: an authority figure validates the black market, everyone in the group(s) is helpful and reassuring, so… they will throw caution and common sense to the wind, ignore the cats who are not doing so well on GS, the ones who relapse, the ones with liver or kidney issues, the ones who die, and commit to spending thousands of dollars, to the delight of the black-market peddlers. All of that, under the promise of a cure with the blessing of a university professor.
As I said, a near-perfect infomercial. Except for that one, pesky detail: the infomercial is about selling a black-market substance. So, it’s illegal. At some point, all participants in the black market trade will have to answer for their blatant disregard of rules and safeguards, and utter contempt of the rule of law that, whether we like it or not, we must abide by or face the consequences. They have to know that illegal businesses can’t go on forever, which brings us to Part Three: “Where do we go from here?”