CBI Scene Blog

Challenging Pharma’s “Bad Rep”

Posted by Emily Forest on Jul 12, 2013 10:00:00 AM

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It’s no secret. The public’s perception of pharma (particularly “big pharma”) is an obstacle for an industry tasked with developing, producing and marketing medicinal products. The latter of which seems to cause the most controversy most of the time. But, why such disdain for an industry that treats, relieves, cures and frankly, saves many lives? I’ve never quite understood.

Sure, there are some (valid) reasons for the perception – Pharma’s a multi-billion dollar, for-profit industry; prescription drug prices are high and often unaffordable for the average consumer; stories detailing offenses, such as off-label promotion or alleged bribes are seen in the news; television ads, print ads, promotions pushing products seem to be everywhere we look.

Okay, I get it…but let's look at it this way — A financially successful, for-profit organization that promotes their (pricey) products to consumers? Doesn’t sound so out-of-the-norm. Why don’t we feel the same way about other manufacturers of products we need in our daily lives? Pharmaceutical companies are major corporations, with thousands of employees and undergo unfathomable risk and responsibility. High risk, high reward – Isn’t that the American way?

And likely, if other companies had the strict regulatory guidelines and barriers that are placed on pharma, their mishaps would be all over the news as well. But what about all the good that pharma does? The good that never shows up in your Google Alerts or on the 6:00 news...why is it overlooked?

Let’s look at the fact that…

  • Many drugs treat, cure and save lives. Let’s not forget the brains behind the label when we swallow a pill that cures our sinus infection, give our child a preventative vaccine to ensure they won’t contract chicken pox or feel relief as our father’s hypertension is finally under control.
  • Many pharmaceutical companies offer Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs) to the financially underprivileged, providing brand name medicines at little or no charge. We’ve all heard the commercial snippet “Need help affording your medication? AstraZeneca may be able to help” or look at the prominent display on Merck’s website, “Need help paying for your medicines and vaccines? At Merck, we believe nobody should go without access to the medicines and vaccines they need. Learn more about our Patient Assistance Programs at merckhelps.com.”
  • Most working Americans will not qualify for PAPs and brands can still be a significant financial burden for the majority of the middle class. By offering coupon and co-pay assistance programs, the manufacturer provides an instant rebate to the patient upon filling the medication, making unaffordable brands, affordable.
  • In a (risky) last-attempt chance to save lives, more and more pharmaceutical companies are launching Expanded Access Programs (EAPS), also known as “compassionate use” programs; essentially affording critically ill patients the opportunity to be treated with phase III or experimental drugs that have yet to be approved by the FDA.

And then there’s the generosity and acts of kindness. See what pharma’s been up to the last few months…

  • Consider Pfizer’s recent joint effort with the YMCA on “50 Moving Forward” – A living plan aimed at motivating older adults to engage in behaviors that are critical to healthy aging. Here’s to being nifty over 50!
  • GlaxoSmithKline recently inked a five-year deal with international charity, Save the Children. With a goal of saving more than one million lives in Africa, GSK is set to donate more than £15 million. 
  • Earlier this month, Sanofi Pasteur donated 300,000 to the East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. The generous contribution, to its long-standing community partner, will attempt to bolster the University’s Science and Technology programs. 
  • Novartis and Malaria No More, a global charity organization, have teamed up with the Power of One campaign in the fight against Malaria. For the next three years, Novartis will contribute financially to the effort, in addition to providing millions of its antimalarial drug. 

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Now, are my opinions completely un-biased? Probably not. I’ve worked with, not for (to be clear) the pharmaceutical industry for nearly a decade. I’ve seen the hiccups, lawsuits and overpriced drugs, but I’ve also seen the charity, engaged in compelling dialogue with conference attendees who truly care about patient safety, compliance, access – you name it – they care. I’ve met the men and women behind the curtains and I promise you, they don’t deserve the “rep.” But the responsibility to turn the reputation around falls on pharma – it’s not just about marketing products, it’s about marketing companies…as a brand…and as part of a do-good, generous industry. Do this effectively and undoubtedly more people would share my sentiment... 

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Topics: Patient Access