Poor pharma corporate reputation – but what is the correct strategic response?

Alexandra Wyke


In our patient themed month, Alexandra Wyke of PatientView provides an overview of a recent report on pharma’s reputation according to 600 patient groups.

A review of pharma reputation — as evaluated by 600 key patient groups worldwide — was published earlier this year. The industry-wide results of this November-December 2012 survey revealed the consequences to pharma of the bad headlines in the public media it received during 2012. According to the survey’s 600 patient group respondents, the overall reputation of the industry had declined throughout the year, mostly because companies failed to:

• manage any adverse news about their products,

• adopt (and be seen to be adopting) ethical marketing practices, and

• cultivate a positive-enough relationship with the media.

Major finding

Only 34% of the 600 patient group respondents state that multinational pharma companies had an “Excellent” or “Good” reputation during 2012 (the equivalent figure from the 500 patient groups responding to the previous year’s survey — that of 2011 — was 42%). A total of 40% of the 600 respondent patient groups state that the reputation of the pharma industry had declined during 2012.

The 600 respondent patient groups also reported that companies in 2012 exhibited:

• A preoccupation with drugs that merely offer short-term health benefits.

• Insufficient effort at discovering chemical entities suitable for neglected catchments of patients.

• Inappropriate marketing of drugs (including those for off-label indications).

• A lack of transparency — especially in reporting the disappointing results of clinical trials.

• Over-pricing of some drugs — many of which are still unaffordable to patients or their payers.

• A failure to help cash-strapped patients in southern-European countries gain access to medicines.

What do the 2012 rankings of pharma companies tell us?

The report also includes a league table of 29 major pharma companies, ranked by their performance by six key indicators, which are regarded as important by patients:

• patient-centredness,

• patient information,

• patient safety,

• useful products,

• transparency, and

• integrity.

The rankings of some companies changed markedly between 2011 and 2012. By getting to grips with the factors that affect these patient-sensitive indicators, companies could begin to foster better patient relations.


“Lilly was up nine places from 18th overall in 2011 to 9th in 2012. The large jump can be explained by patient groups feeling that Lilly’s performance had improved during 2012…”


Gilead’s leap from 10th position overall in 2011 to 2nd in 2012 is largely due to a change in respondents’ perceptions of the quality of the company’s R&amp,D into HIV / AIDS and hepatitis treatments. Gilead added newly-approved products to its R&amp,D portfolio during 2012, and invested in the therapeutic area of hepatitis C.

Lilly was up nine places from 18th overall in 2011 to 9th in 2012. The large jump can be explained by patient groups feeling that Lilly’s performance had improved during 2012 on three fronts:

• having a good record on patient safety,

• transparency with external stakeholders, and

• the ability to act with integrity.

In June 2012, Lilly’s CEO, John Lechleiter, had publicly pledged to turn Lilly into a more patient-centric organisation, and to deliver more innovative medicines “to help meet the growing needs of people around the world”.

GSK, ranked 10th in 2012 down from 4th in 2011. Comments from respondent patient groups indicate that bad publicity about GSK during the year had affected the company’s overall 2012 ranking by patient groups.


Figure 1: Final rankings of the top-10 pharma companies –2012 versus 2011

These shifts (and others) in the corporate rankings suggest three important strategic pointers for pharma:

Companies need to avoid being overly product-focused in their relations with patient groups, and to have a robust patient-centred strategy

One striking deficiency among pharma is that it remains overly product-focused in dealings with patient groups, and fails to see the world from a truly patient perspective. For patients, medicine taking comprises just one aspect of the numerous complex challenges they face when trying to manage a chronic condition. More imaginative engagement is required. One company that has achieved plaudits from patient groups and patients for its efforts to create a patient-centric approach to patient advocacy and patient support is Novo Nordisk. The company ranks 7th in 2012 — compared with 11th in 2011 — largely because of improvements seen by respondent patient groups in the company’s provision of high-quality information to patients. One pan-European patient group describes the significant Novo Nordisk study, DAWN 2, rolled out in 2012, as “exemplar patient-centred research”. According to the Novo Nordisk website, the study “aims to bring new 360° knowledge and insights into the experiences and needs of people with diabetes, and all of the different supporting stakeholders.”


“One pan-European patient group describes the significant Novo Nordisk study, DAWN 2, rolled out in 2012, as “exemplar patient-centred research”.”


Companies need to embrace patient groups in any crisis management that they may have to undertake

Patient groups are highly sensitive to ‘bad stories’ about individual pharma companies in the public media. Many of the patient groups responding to this 2012 survey refer to negative press during 2012 to explain why they have downgraded their opinion of some companies — particularly on issues of patient safety, transparency and company integrity. Pharma companies with a high exposure to ‘bad stories’ in 2012 see their rankings drop. Other pharma companies benefit as a result.

Companies need to be more accessible to patient group partners

A survey conducted in 2011 highlighted the importance of corporate accessibility. Some 850 international, national or large regional patient groups were asked to comment on their current experiences of working with industry (including pharma). The surveyed groups described several barriers to a successful working relationship. Most frequently cited (by 76% of the respondents) was “poor availability on the part of the company’s contact person”. For the record, poor corporate reputation was nominated as a barrier by 63% of these respondent patient groups.


1. http://lillypad.lilly.com/entry.php?id=1706

2. “How can Industry Build Relationships with Patient Groups? A global survey of 850 international, national and large regional patient groups”, PatientView Quarterly, July 2011


About the author:

Alexandra Wyke is founder and CEO of PatientView. The company aims to understand and respond to one of the most potent forces changing healthcare in the 21st century: the patient movement. PatientView does not just strive to define the patient movement, it also works to build bridges worldwide with the health-oriented NGOs that comprise the movement, and to support them.

Before PatientView, Alex was responsible for creating and running an international healthcare publishing unit at The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) between 1996 and 2000. Between 1984 and 1996, she was business and science correspondent for The Economist. Alex continues to write for the EIU. Her most recent EIU publication, The Future of Healthcare, March 2011, was sponsored by Janssen. Alex, who has a PhD in biochemistry from St George’s Medical School, London, is married with a teenage son.

Alex can be contacted on alexwyke@patient-view.com

For more information on the report please visit here.

What affects your opinion of a pharma company?