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What do the public think of the pharma industry?

What do the public think of the pharma industry?


Public opinion has for long been regarded as essential to the success of a thriving business. In fact, whilst the benefits of popular perception can often appear somewhat intangible on the balance sheet, what is essentially the respect of the customer is the bastion of almost every profession
Last Updated: 27-Aug-2010

Healthcare is no exception. For where it may sometimes prove challenging to pin down the precise ways in which public opinion can make a direct impact on a company’s revenues, a positive brand identity can, amongst other things, greatly assist in attracting some of the brightest new minds in the industry. Indeed, a positive image is particularly profitable when it comes to something like recruitment and the establishment of something in the way of a social contract with the general public can also encourage support from important third parties, such as MPs elected by their respective constituents and the journalists who report on their activities and products. In the most basic of senses, it pays to be appreciated and operating in a realm of public disapproval is an obstacle that can be easily avoided for the most part.

Yet where drugs companies have a particularly long and established record of charitable contributions and acts of good will in the community, not to mention the immeasurable contributions that have been made to the healthcare of hundreds of millions of people the world over, pharmaceutical giants are still not immune from the costs of diminishing public approval. In a 2006 Harris Interactive poll, and under the banner of ‘Industries That Are Generally Honest And Trustworthy’, Pharmaceutical and drug companies scored just 7% amongst all adults polled. Only oil and tobacco companies found themselves in poorer standing.

Today however, where the pharmaceutical industry may periodically have found itself to be one of the least regarded sectors in the marketplace, the numbers no longer entirely support this hypothesis. In a recent Ipsos MORI poll, not only did 59% of all Members of Parliament and 46% of business and financial journalists approve of the operating standards of the industry, but perhaps most critically, 49% of the general public agreed. Therefore where the pharmaceutical industry may occasionally attract scorn and disaffection, today that does not seem to be the case. In terms of a circumstantial explanation, it perhaps comes as no surprise that at a time when investment bankers and hedge fund managers are attracting the greatest levels of condemnation from the general public, other traditionally unfashionable fields such as pharma, are experiencing a period of calm and relative public neutrality.

In another example of the power of the moment, there can be little doubt that the change of policy direction articulated by new President Barack Obama has already made a profound impact on the public value of the industry as a whole. Indeed, after 8 years of a President who consistently placed science somewhere near the bottom of his administration’s list of priorities, and repeatedly hid behind religious reasoning in his defense of a ban on stem cell research, there have been more than a few indications from President Obama’s First 100 Days to suggest a refreshed commitment to healthcare. There are signs too, that this is provoking a wider change in American attitudes to stem cell research and other areas of research and innovation.

Be that as it may, it would be unhelpful to suggest that companies should only rely on circumstance or scandal to affect their ratings. When in fact, businesses themselves often hold the keys to a positive image and their own actions speak far louder than anyone else’s. After a recent bout of scandals in clinical trials, there can be little surprise that the World Medical Association has been prompted to revise the Declaration of Helsinki and to address some of the wider ethical standards in the industry. Drugs companies would do well to follow suit.