The 2017 Global Pharmaceutical Reptrak study, prepared each year by Boston’s Reputation Institute, showed that the public’s perception of the pharmaceutical industry has improved, earning an industry score of 71.8, up from 68.2 in 2016. Furthermore, about 44% of respondents viewed the industry as having an excellent reputation, a seven point increase since 2016. Similarly, the number of respondents who perceived the industry as weak or poor declined, moving to 26% from 35% in 2016.
While many people may be surprised by these findings in light of negative media coverage of the industry, Kasper Ulf Nielsen, executive partner of Reputation Institute and the study’s author, attributes the disconnect to public distrust of the media. “When the media is very negative, it does not necessarily drive a direct negative perception,” said Nielsen. “People who know the companies well have direct experience, or they may hear positive things from people they trust. Today, those opinions are more influential than media coverage.”
The Reputation Institute developed the RepTrak framework in 2006, and it has been conducting this study for five years in the same eight markets: Brazil, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S. This year’s study is based on responses from 16,500 people who received the questionnaire online and were somewhat or very familiar with each company.
The study measured people’s perceptions of 17 large companies across seven dimensions: products/services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, leadership and performance. The strongest perceptions were for financial performance, which received a RepTrak score of 77.5, followed by strong perceptions for future growth (score of 75.6), products/services (75.4), leadership (75.4) and innovation (75.2). The lowest scores were given for governance (70.0) and behaving ethically (69.2).
Based on these dimensions, the five top-performing companies were AbbVie, Novo Nordisk, Takeda, Roche and Janssen, while Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) were low performers. In fact, the study found that 54% of the general public would recommend AbbVie, Novo Nordisk and Takeda, with 44% saying they would do so for Pfizer and GSK.
According to Nielsen, these results show that the largest companies have the most difficult time building a strong reputation. “Pfizer and GSK are at the bottom of the list, and you could argue that they reflect the negative results associated with the industry based on media coverage,” he added.
Patrick Barth, a spokesman for Roche, which ranked fourth in the study, acknowledged the importance of reputation, which “is ultimately the result of us living up to the promise we make to our stakeholders and ourselves to serve our patients through innovative research. These results motivate us to continue developing and providing breakthrough therapies and diagnostics.”
In fact, Frank Lichtenberg, Ph.D., the Courtney C. Brown professor of business at the Columbia Graduate School of Business, has been studying the impact of innovation in the pharmaceutical industry on society for 25 years and sees a direct correlation between new drugs, especially for cancer and cardiovascular disease, and increased life expectancy and overall quality of life.
“It’s easy to look at high drug prices as a way to measure cost, but identifying benefits to society is more subtle,” Lichtenberg said. “Despite their costs, new drugs have increased life expectancy, reduced the length of hospital stays, kept people out of nursing care and allowed them to be more productive in the workplace. These contributions provide significant value to society.”
Nonetheless, when assessing the Reputation Institute’s findings, it is important to view them in the context in which the questions were asked and the data analyzed. Jennifer E. Miller, Ph.D., founder of Bioethics International, pointed out that the study asked respondents about individual companies, not about the industry as a whole. “The institute then aggregated and averaged the findings to arrive at the scores for perception of the industry, which is not the same as asking people directly about the industry,” she said.
Miller compared this difference to the kinds of responses that people may give when asked about a specific academic institution, like Harvard, instead of being asked about higher education. “If people are asked what they think of Harvard, they will probably say it’s a premier institution in a cool town,” said Miller. “But when asked about higher education, there’s a good chance they would discuss the high tuition and difficulty in paying back loans. The way questions are asked affects the response.”
Another aspect to note about study methodology is that it is difficult to compare the Reputation Institute study with other studies that do ask about the industry as a whole. Those studies, like the 2017 Harris poll, tend to report more negative findings. For example, the Harris poll found that only 9% of respondents believe that pharmaceutical companies put people over profits. Comparing that number to a data point from the Reputation Institute, such as the finding that 57% of respondents believe that the industry is committed to advancing treatments and cures, with 35% neutral, is “like comparing apples and oranges,” said Miller.
“The bottom line is that people need to know how studies arrive at their scores, the root causes of the scores, and what practices are needed to improve them,” added Miller. “Results need to be portrayed in alignment with the study methodology used.”
Ultimately, these high scores from the Reputation Institute are something to be celebrated, but awareness about the reputation of the overall industry is not something to be taken for granted.
This article was reprinted from Volume 21, Issue 23, of CWWeekly, a leading clinical research industry newsletter providing expanded analysis on breaking news, study leads, trial results and more. Subscribe »