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GSK’s ViiV, Pfizer and Roche’s Genentech earn top ranks among patient advocacy groups

The pharma industry is still holding on to its COVID-19 halo in the eyes of patient advocacy groups, according to the latest PatientView survey on corporate reputation.

Fifty-nine percent of the 2,150 patient groups polled in the 2021 survey rated pharma’s reputation “excellent” or “good.” That’s up from 50% in 2020 and just 38% back in 2016.

The groups also rated pharma’s reputation more favorably than all other healthcare sectors, including biotech (55%) and retail pharmacists (52%), for the first time since the organization began conducting the survey 11 years ago, said Alex Wyke, PatientView’s CEO.

Pharma earned its highest ratings for “making high quality products” and “being innovative”—suggesting pharma’s COVID-19 response continues to drive the reputation boost.

But it’s not just about vaccines and treatments, said Wyke. “It’s about how pharma responded to the crisis for patients with chronic illness.”

Overall, up to 76% of patient groups thought the pharma industry has been “very effective” or “effective” at providing support to patients during COVID-19, an increase from 61% in 2020.

Among individual companies, GlaxoSmithKline’s ViiV Healthcare retained its No. 1 spot for overall corporate reputation, with Pfizer ranking second and Roche/Genentech coming in third. Gilead Sciences and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit rounded out the Top 5. Pfizer earned the No. 1 spot among Big Pharma companies, while Sun Pharma led among generic drug companies.

The highly ranked drugmakers typically went “the extra yard to help patient groups in that time of need when they were isolated from the healthcare system,” Wyke explained. That includes steps like making arrangements with pharmacies for home delivery of drugs, she said, or, in the case of ViiV, maintaining reliable supplies of needed HIV medicines during the crisis.

Still, the survey pointed to areas where pharma can do better. The high cost of prescription drugs remains the biggest pain point, with a dismal 13% of groups rating the companies “excellent” or “good” when it came to fair pricing, and just 16% for pricing transparency, although those were still slight improvements over 2020.

Other areas flagged for improvement (where fewer than half of groups rated pharma excellent or good) include engaging patients in product R&D, being transparent with clinical data, providing access to medicines, providing services “beyond the pill” and acting with integrity.

The pandemic uncovered long-standing health inequities and underscored the need for reliable drug supply chains and outreach to marginalized patients, Wyke said. While patients may have a better perception of pharma now than they did before the pandemic, their expectations are higher, too, she noted.

“The real question now moving forward is, will pharma put COVID to one side and go back to the way they were or move forward having learned from this huge experience?” she asked. That’s a question the organization plans to tackle in 2022.