Pharmaceutical firms need to make some drastic changes to the way they do business if they are to regain the public’s trust and must be seen to be more interested in medicines than market share to avoid even more damage to their image, a leading industry observer has told PharmaTimes World News.

Peter Claude, a USA-based partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers pharmaceutical and life sciences advisory services group, was speaking as the firm published a report, Recapturing the Vision which highlights the significant differences between the public’s view of pharmaceutical companies and the industry's self perception.

The study is based on a survey of 500 consumers and 150 members of US industry stakeholder groups (such as doctors, researchers, former health policy makers and executives from hospitals, managed care organisations and employers) and interviews with 20 pharmaceutical and biotechnology company executives and the findings make for disturbing reading for the industry. Mr Claude said that “it is difficult to comprehend how an industry that has saved so many lives should be held in such low public esteem,” noting that “in the current climate of distrust, the public is questioning the industry’s motives and practices from sales and marketing to pricing to drug development.”

At present, he told PharmaTimes WorldNews, “no-one is listening to them (the drugmakers) and no-one wants to listen to them,” which means that the industry has to change the dynamic of its communication, especially at a time when the sector is under such pressure from governments and a fairly hostile media. This needs to be done by companies facing up to its problems of presentation and actual practice which have been characterised by a lack of transparency.

DTC advertising needs to be more serious and scientific

A change needs to be made in the way sales and marketing practices are carried out and the industry has focused for too long on the doctor rather than the patient. This change can be achieved in a number of ways, Mr Claude explained, one of which is to improve the quality of direct-to-consumer advertising on TV and focusing on the serious scientific benefits of the drug. He added that much drug promotion in the past has been based on the doctor-sales rep relationship and this needs to change. Doctors are too busy to have relationships like those nowadays and it is time to refocus the sales strategy and put it on a more sophisticated and medically-relevant level, he added, noting that concentrating on pharmacovigilance and keeping the public informed more in terms of drug safety “drives the level of trust” higher between industry and patients.

When asked by PharmaTimes World News if there was a political, or rather corporate, will within the industry to do something about the problem of image, Mr Claude said that changes in the way sales forces are going to be restructured in the future, especially in the wake of Pfizer’s recent announcement of major cuts to its field force, shows that pharmaceutical firms are taking steps in the right direction.

The report showed, among several findings, that three out of four consumers underestimate the average financial investment required to research and develop a new drug by more than 50% and they are split between believing that pharmaceutical companies consider important unmet medical needs when deciding to develop a new drug (55%) instead of ‘me-too’ treatments and lifestyle drugs with the greatest sales potential (45%). This compares to 71% of industry stakeholders and 91% of pharmaceutical executives, who say health needs are a top priority.

Also, eight of every ten consumers said that when given a choice, they will consider a drug company’s reputation when choosing which product to take. Strikingly, only one out of three pharmaceutical executives thought reputation was a factor.