PharmExec Blog

Pharma's Reputation: A Boost in the US, but China Strikes a Sour Note

The pharmaceutical industry’s global reputation is on the mend, even if some countries – notably China – are more hostile, according to the latest Ipsos Reputation Snapshot for the Pharmaceutical Sector, from the Ipsos Global Reputation Centre.

Since the last Ipsos survey in 2008, pharma’s reputation has improved significantly in the US, more so than in any of the other 24 countries surveyed. Other countries, however, namely China, Spain, Brazil, Russia, Germany and India, have a lower opinion of the pharma industry today than four years ago.

In 2012, citizens in the survey countries reported, on average, a more favorable impression of pharma than an unfavorable one – 40% and 18%, respectively. On a cross industry basis, Pharma’s “net favorable” score was 21, putting it in fifth place behind personal computers (37) at the top of the list, restaurants (31), retail (28) and telecommunications (24). As one might expect, oil and gas (2), credit card companies (-3) and the tobacco (-28) industry carried the worst reputations globally this year.

Asked whether the pharmaceutical industry is appropriately regulated, survey participants in France, Russia and Germany – countries on the negative side of the global consensus – felt that industry needs more regulation. France sentiment was especially strong; 59% of the respondents said pharma is too lightly regulated.

Other findings from the report include:

  • Emerging Markets have a more satisfactory opinion of the industry than the mature market countries.
  • The US hold the most balanced view of the need for regulation- 36% said more is needed, 46% remain content with current regulations, and 18% said there should be less.
  • Attitudes toward industry and top companies aren’t always the same- US and China rated individual companies highly, while rating the overall industry less favorably.
  • Top pharma companies are more likely to be perceived positively based on their product quality and industry leadership rather than good corporate citizenship.

Significantly, China’s perception of the industry has soured the most in the past four years, even as pharma made strides in the US. Taken against China’s higher regard for top pharma companies, what accounts for the discrepancy? “Many recent drug scandals in China have been the result of safety issues and corruption associated mostly with local brands,” says Nicolas Boyon, co-author of the report. Global companies, by juxtaposition, stand out because their western origin provides Chinese consumers with reassurance as to the safety and efficacy of their products.”  One such scandal involved the use of chromium, a known carcinogenic, found present in the local manufacture of gel capsules.

In addition, Boyon notes that DTC advertising, while illegal in China, “could benefit from companies leveraging the assurance of quality their trademarks represent as branded medicines.”

Recommended priorities for companies in pharma expressed by citizens around the world were closely aligned, and nothing particularly new to industry ears: innovation, safety, and improved access via financial assistance for patients. What will be interesting to see is how China’s ascent to status as the world’s second largest market for pharma will shape industry’s global reputation. The role and visibility of branded generic firms from China –and other key emerging markets –will begin to attract more attention, raising important questions about the scope of cross-border regulation and inspection.

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