The pharmaceutical sector is suffering from a poor reputation among Americans, according to new research by marketing research firm Ipsos, which found that nearly as many Americans hold an unfavorable opinion of the pharmaceutical sector (32 percent) as have a favorable opinion (35 percent), while 33 percent are neither favorable nor unfavorable.

Among other sectors measured, only the oil and gas, chemicals, and tobacco industries fare worse than the pharmaceutical sector. Sectors enjoying the highest favorability scores include the information technology, electronic goods, and food and beverage industries.

Most criticisms of pharmaceutical companies relate to perceptions of an excessive focus on profits over public wellbeing. Among the consumer comments: “They are making too much money at the consumer’s expense;” “They are interested in shareholders, not people who have limited incomes to buy medicines;” and “They help drive up drug costs.”

Perceived priorities for pharmaceutical companies and medical device manufacturers are:
• Developing vaccines to prevent an epidemic such as AIDS or avian flu (regarded as very important by 72 percent);
• Providing medicines or medical equipment in the event of a major disaster such as an earthquake or flood (69 percent); and
• Patient assistance programs that provide cheaper or free drugs to low-income families (65 percent).

Pharmaceutical companies receive little recognition from the public for their current social contributions and investments. Only a small fraction of the public could name any company that develops vaccines to prevent an epidemic (4 percent), provides medicines or medical equipment in case of a major disaster (7 percent), or contributes to patient assistance programs (14 percent). If pharmaceutical companies could raise awareness of their philanthropic actions, they would undoubtedly make gains in countering negative feelings toward the sector.

Medical device manufacturers are much better regarded than the pharmaceutical industry. Those favorable to medical device manufacturers (48 percent) outweigh those unfavorable (12 percent) by four to one—a reflection of the focus on drug costs in the wider debate over healthcare reform.

Access to healthcare is a cause of concern for many Americans. Healthcare ranks as the second most worrying issue in the country (mentioned by 35 percent) after terrorism (40 percent). In addition, providing affordable healthcare to employees emerges as the top issue for large companies over the next few years (mentioned by 39 percent), ahead of inflation and oil prices (31 percent), environmental issues (20 percent), outsourcing (18 percent) and government regulation (14 percent).

Americans overwhelmingly say that companies in general should work to improve their products and services’ wider impacts (77 percent) and do not pay enough attention to their social and environmental responsibilities (60 percent). Only one third (35 percent) say that companies are listening and responding to the public’s concerns.

Almost two-thirds of respondents (62 percent) say that if they had more information about the social, environmental and ethical behavior of companies, it would influence their purchasing decisions, but 61 percent say it is difficult to know which produces are better for society and the environment.