In an August 2019 Gallup poll of the public’s view on various business sectors, the pharmaceutical industry was ranked dead last out of 25. Even the federal government scored higher, which had been last or tied for last from 2011 through 2018. The poll showed that Americans are more than twice as likely to rate the pharmaceutical industry negatively (58%) as positively (27%), giving it a net-positive score of -31.
This is the lowest score since Gallup first began polling on industries in 2001. Why? This new all-time low in the industry’s image comes from a variety of criticisms, from generating the highest drug costs in the world to spending massive amounts in lobbying politicians to the industry’s role in the U.S. opioid crisis. Shortly after this poll was conducted, an Oklahoma judge ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million for its role in the state’s tragic opioid epidemic.
On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, its first such designation since declaring H1N1 influenza a pandemic in 2009.
The outbreak had officially shocked the U.S., shutting schools and businesses down, maxing out hospital beds, and devastatingly claiming thousands of lives. It was initially reported to the WHO on December 31st, 2019, so the quest for a vaccine started in early January, before most people in the U.S. and Europe were even thinking about a pandemic.
The biotechnology company Moderna had access to the genetic code for this virus from researchers in China. By mid-March, they started a clinical trial of a vaccine developed in conjunction with the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Pfizer, a household name in the world of pharmaceuticals, also announced plans to develop a vaccine around that same time in collaboration with BioNTech, a German biotech company they had signed a deal with more than a year earlier.
Both these companies had similar mRNA technology that could, theoretically, lead to rapid manufacturing and testing of the new vaccines. The U.S. has arguably the most intense regulations regarding new drug approval globally. The average time from FDA application to approval taking ~12 years at the estimated cost of $1 billion. Heads of research and top pharma executives have been gathering annually to mitigate this and develop solutions to speed up the drug approval process and make it more efficient and economical.
Fast forward to September 2020, and a new Gallup poll was released, showing that pharmaceuticals had gone up one slot in the eye of the public – improving modestly as the positive rating increased 7 points to 34%. One can only assume that the successful rollout of COVID-19 vaccines may have helped this rating – however small it may be.
I decided to do a quick poll within my network, taking to Instagram to see how my followers’ opinions on the pharmaceutical industry have or have not changed over the course of this year. Out of 70 voters that participated, 59% said that before COVID-19, they had a negative view of pharma, while only 41% reported a positive view.
When polled about how they feel now, the votes were split 50/50. I challenged my network to provide context as to what made them change their minds. While many folks are still somewhat skeptical in general, the typical response was along the lines of not knowing enough about the drug development and approval process beforehand. Still, with heightened attention from the media and more transparency about the process, they felt more informed, regardless of whether they feel positive about the industry as a whole.
If you would like to learn more about the state of the pharmaceutical industry, I invite you to connect with me or one of my cohorts in the Life Sciences division.