Reputation of big pharma suffering in the UK, research shows

Less than one-third of UK patient groups rate the reputation of the pharma industry as good or excellent, according to a major report.

Drawing on the views of 111 groups representing a range of physical and mental health conditions, the report, by research and consultancy firm PatientView, reveals that just 28 per cent have a particularly positive view of pharma.

The proportion is significantly lower than the global figure, which stands at 41 per cent. This difference could be down to the fact that just 43 per cent of the UK patient groups worked with one or more pharma companies, far below the 81 per cent global average, according to the report.

"Patient groups usually (though not invariably) tend to be more positive about their corporate partners than patient groups that do not work with the industry," it said.

"Since 2012, UK patient groups have remained consistently more negative about the pharma industry’s corporate reputation than patient groups worldwide," the report stated.

Percentage of respondent patient groups stating that the corporate reputation of the pharmaceutical industry as a whole was 'Excellent' or 'Good', 2012-2018 (UK patient groups vs patient groups worldwide):

"Brexit was one reason why UK patient groups in 2018 became more disaffected with the pharma industry than before. As the planned withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union drew closer, many UK patient groups began to publicly voice fears about possible interruptions to the country’s drug supplies," it added.

The report, released last month, said: "UK patient groups marked the industry poorly for three types of transparency: pricing policies; sharing of clinical data; and funding of external stakeholders (although similar feedback is seen among patient groups worldwide)."

Nineteen businesses are profiled in the report on the reputation of pharma in 2018, which details how the firms performed on a series of reputational metrics according to patient groups familiar with them.

The companies featured are AbbiVie, Allergan, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Biogen, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Gilead, GSK, Janssen, Merck & Co, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi and Takeda.

They were scored on measures such as patient-centricity, patient information, patient safety, high-quality products, transparency of pricing and clinical trial data; integrity, quality of relationships with patient groups, services 'beyond the pill', and engaging patients in R&D.

Big pharma

The report also presents reputational rankings of 13 larger multinationals, in which Janssen and Novartis were ranked joint top for their corporate reputation.

A spokesperson for Novartis told PRWeek: "Our ranking is a reflection of our strong efforts in recent years to work even more collaboratively and embed patient and caregiver perspectives in more of what we do. We are convinced that only by working together can we better understand their needs and deliver improved outcomes."

Jennifer Lee, director of health economics, market access and advocacy at Janssen UK, commented: "We have been working hard to build trusted, transparent and lasting relationships with patient organisations and to understand what matters most to them, working in true partnership to meet their needs and priorities."

Roche came sixth in this reputation ranking. "We see enormous value in collaborating with patients and patient groups, drawing on their experiences and perspectives to inform what we do to ensure everyone in the UK benefits from our medicines," said David Flynn, head of PR at Roche.

"This survey highlights that the industry needs to continue developing more constructive long-term partnerships with patient groups so together we can help people in the UK live longer and healthier lives," he added.

Room for improvement

Although the report does not provide any recommendations, it features feedback from patient groups on what pharma companies could do better. 

One group, representing people with HIV/AIDS, said that companies should "be clear in their communications about their programmes and products, and transparent in pricing and access protocols. Engage with community organisations."

Another, for cancer patients, urged firms to "do more than pay lip service to patients. Involve them and advocacy groups throughout all aspects— from strategy to launch."

And a representative from a patient group for people with heart conditions commented: "There are fundamental undercurrents running through the industry that need to change. I don’t know any pharma companies that have a patient-centred approach that actually benefits the patients—apart from the product they sell."

Expert view

Responding to the findings, Dr Jane Brearley, senior partner and head of health at Portland, told PRWeek: "The most interesting part of the research is how pharma company reputations in the UK versus globally seem to be affected by whether they are actively engaged with patient groups."

She added: "It’s also likely that high-profile debates about access to treatments and NHS funding play into how pharma companies are perceived by patient groups and the general public."

Compared to other sectors, "pharma is punching well below its weight when it comes to communicating the very significant contribution it makes to our society".

The sector can "no longer rely on defensive narratives of large R&D investment to raise its reputation," she warned.

"To cut through to their complex audiences, including patient groups, individual companies must centre their story on the value they create through life-changing treatments for patients and through being a good employer."


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