Merck's chief executive Ken Frazier on Monday resigned from a White House advisory body in protest over Donald Trump's failure to denounce white nationalists for provoking clashes over the weekend in which one protester died.
In a statement from the US drugmaker posted on Twitter, Mr Frazier said he was stepping down from the president's American Manufacturing Council "as a matter of personal conscience" adding: "I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism."
Although the statement did not mention the president by name, Mr Frazier, who is African American, left no doubt it was aimed at Mr Trump. “America’s leaders must honour our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.
An hour after Merck posted the statement on its Twitter feed, Mr Trump replied: "Now that Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President's Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!"
Mr Frazier's stand comes amid mounting criticism of Mr Trump's handling of the clashes in Virginia over the weekend between far-right demonstrators and counter-protesters.
White House aides were forced to defend the president after he blamed "many sides" for the clashes in Charlottesville on Saturday but failed to condemn and name the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups whose members were at the centre of the violence.
Mr Frazier's decision drew out several other business leaders. Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein weighed in on Twitter, appearing to criticise the White House. Citing former US president Abraham Lincoln, who led the country during the Civil War, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs tweeted: "Lincoln: 'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' Isolate those who try to separate us. No equivalence w/ those who bring us together."
Paul Polman, the chief executive of Unilever, welcomed Mr Frazier's decision. The 61-year-old Dutch national, who has spent much of his career in the US and has an American wife, tweeted: "Thanks @Merck Ken Frazier for strong leadership to stand up for the moral values that made this country what it is."
Mr Frazier is not the first big business leader to resign from the White House advisory bodies set up by Mr Trump. In June, Tesla founder Elon Musk and Disney's chief executive Bob Iger quit over the president's decision to take the US out of the Paris climate accord.
Earlier this year, the president hit out at the pharmaceutical industry over the high prices of drugs, accusing the sector of “getting away with murder”. Mr Trump is expected to sign an executive order targeting drug pricing at some point this year, although the industry has been anticipating it would be more benign than feared. – (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017)