LEADER: Pharma sector must face its demons

If you enter the brand Seroxat into Google, the top result reads: 'Panorama investigates the darker side of one of the world's most successful anti-depressants'.

Danny Rogers, Editor, <em>PRWeek</em>
Danny Rogers, Editor, PRWeek

If you put the word into the BBC website, the top headline reads: 'Seroxat firm "hid trial data"'.

If this was a brand such as Coca-Cola or Vodafone, this would be considered a massive crisis of reputation. And yet somehow we have come almost to expect it of drug companies.

So imagine our surprise when last week, David Lewis, the ABPI's top communicator, said: 'The industry is not as badly perceived as it thinks it is.'

Now GlaxoSmithKline might be one of the most successful companies in the UK. It may produce much-loved drinks and many life-saving drugs. But when it comes to allegations that the firm covered up data suggesting Seroxat actually caused suicides among children, reputation doesn't get much worse than that.

The industry would be better listening to Procter & Gamble spokesman Mark Chakravarty who, at the same event, said: 'There is a high suspicion of the pharma industry. Greed, dishonesty and fraud are some associations.'

Let's be clear. One isn't claiming that Big Pharma is any of these things. The sector has improved its practices and codes over the past decade and pulled in highly professional communicators. But it would be absolutely complacent to believe many people on the street don't still hold these damaging suspicions.

Lewis was right when he also mentioned the positive experiences many people have had with new drugs.

Nevertheless Big Pharma's place in popular culture is still embodied in movies such as The Constant Gardener and global media scares such as Vioxx.

One can understand the ABPI trying to foster a positive state of mind. But it may be better to be brutally honest and start building from the reputational rock bottom.

Email: danny.rogers@haymarket.com


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