Pharma must rebuild reputation – Merck and Co’s CEO

Merck & Co’s CEO Kenneth Frazier has said the pharma industry must take on the challenge of its poor public perception.

In an interview with Yahoo Finance, Frazier defended the industry’s record, noting the progress US Merck has made in treating cancer with its immunotherapy Keytruda (pembrolizumab).

But Frazier said the criticism that the industry has received over pricing is beginning to take its toll on its overall reputation, as has big pharma’s role in the opioid addiction crisis.

He cited a Gallup poll published at the beginning of September that showed the reputation of the pharma industry was at rock bottom, below all others on the list.

Among those questioned 58% had a “totally negative” perception of pharma, according to the poll, which was topped by the restaurant industry.

Kenneth Frazier

Frazier said: “A recent gallup poll said that the pharmaceutical industry was the lowest ranked industry in terms of the public’s respect. That’s not a good a thing for an industry that exists to save people’s lives.

“We are below Congress, below bankers, below tobacco, that’s not the place to be. I think it’s really a challenge. Right now I think that there are a number of issues that are in the common discussion in our country.

“Pharmaceutical pricing – every person running for president has a plan to reduce pharmaceutical pricing. Some of them are I think legitimate plans, and some of them I think will hurt innovation which we don’t want.

“I think there are issues in our country around opioids, so I think the front page stories about the industry tend to be negative.”

Frazier pointed out advances made by the industry, noting that Merck & Co’s Keytruda reduces risk of dying from untreated NSCLC by 50%.

“That’s a whole lot. 160,000 people a year are newly diagnosed with this form of lung cancer so now 80,000 of those people have a chance to live a longer better life.”

He also noted the work that his company has done in the developing world, such as helping combat the Ebola virus and providing vaccinations against common diseases.

“We are very proud that it’s our Ebola vaccine that’s being used in the latest outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We have given away for free our genetically engineered hepatitis B vaccine in China.

“There was a time in China when one in 10 newborns was born with the hepatitis B virus which means that over a significant period of time you are going to have destruction of livers, liver cancer, so you save millions of lives.

“Historically we have given away our river blindness drug and saved millions of (people’s) sight. So the reality of the world is that we have to deal with the affordability issue around drugs but part of what our business model is about is our humanitarian mission of bringing new medicines to people around the world, including people who can’t afford to pay for them.”

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