Public perception of pharma companies has dropped since peaking during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent study released by Caliber, a corporate reputation monitoring and management platform.
The Caliber study found that in the post-pandemic era, the reputation of pharma companies is more likely to be impacted by things like the climate crisis and inflation — as well as drug pricing and drug safety — than COVID-19.
In short, the public has grown to expect a lot more from pharma companies — in that they do more to impact society in a positive way aside from simply making profit off medicine.
“Building a solid reputation in the pharmaceutical industry requires a dedicated effort,” Soren Holm, a senior advisor at Caliber, said in a statement. “The public demands not only cutting-edge innovation and safe, affordable products, but also a strong sense of purpose that extends beyond generating profits for shareholders.”
GSK’s consumer healthcare spinoff Haleon has managed to achieve that, Holm argued, because “they connect expertise with driving real change for patients. These companies show how they solve societal problems beyond delivering medicine.”
After decades of a poor reputation of — fueled by the public perception of greedy Big Pharma companies and executives seeking profit over patients — the pharma sector experienced a resurgence in reputation during the pandemic. Big players like Pfizer, Moderna and J&J were viewed as monumental players who created miracle vaccines to curb the spread of a lethal virus, save lives and put an end to the worst parts of lockdown.
But even just in the last year, that narrative has begun to change.
COVID-19 has become less of a pressing issue as global inflation and the energy crisis have begun to emerge as areas of more importance to consumers. Additionally, pharma companies have again faced scrutiny on issues like drug pricing.
As a result, only four out of 10 people are likely to say something positive about a pharma company, Caliber found.
Pharma companies like Pfizer and Moderna have also faced criticism from both the left and the right sides of the political spectrum.
Just last week, right-wing activist group Project Veritas released a viral undercover video showing an alleged Pfizer executive saying the company was seeking to mutate the COVID-19 virus as part of gain-of-research. In the days since, Pfizer has endured a PR storm, even though there’s no clear evidence that the executive featured in the video even exists.
In order to improve reputation, pharma companies need to put their focus on a “distinct purpose” and put “actions behind their words,” the Caliber report noted. They need to hone in on corporate responsibility and “show how they play a relevant role in people’s lives and society beyond delivering medical treatments.”