The pharmaceutical sector is suffering from a poor reputation among Americans, according to new research by marketing research firm Ipsos.

Ipsos’ biannual survey on perceptions of large companies shows that nearly as many people in the USA hold an “unfavourable” opinion of the pharmaceutical sector (32%) as a good one (35%), and among other sectors measured, only the oil and gas, chemicals, and tobacco industries fare worse than drugs.

Most criticisms of pharmaceutical companies relate to perceptions of profiteering, the report notes, with respondents to the survey agreeing with the following: “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.”

Ipsos notes that access to healthcare is a cause of concern for many Americans and ranks as the second most worrying issue in the country (mentioned by 35%) after terrorism (40%). In addition, providing affordable healthcare to employees emerges as the top issue for large companies over the next few years, mentioned by 39%.Perceived priorities for drugmakers are developing vaccines to prevent an epidemic such as AIDS or avian flu (regarded as very important by 72%), providing medicines or medical equipment in the event of a major disaster such as an earthquake or flood (69%) and patient assistance programmes that provide cheaper or free drugs to low-income families (65%).

However, “pharmaceutical companies receive little recognition from the public for their social contributions and investments,” Ipsos notes, and “only a small fraction of the public” could name any company that develops vaccines to prevent an epidemic (4%), provides medicines or medical equipment in case of a major disaster (7%), or contributes to patient assistance programmes (14%).

If companies could raise awareness of their philanthropic actions, “they would undoubtedly make gains in countering negative feelings toward the sector,” the report concludes.