Amid SVB storm, pharma's reputation bucks downward trend and scales up driven by insulin price drops

The pharmaceutical industry is making a comeback in the reputation stakes while every other industry around it is falling in Americans’ estimations as we edged toward a possible banking crisis in March.

That’s according to a new flash report out by premier pollster The Harris Poll that assessed perceived reputation in the U.S. across the world’s largest industries before the near collapse (and subsequent rescue) of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), which heavily financed life science and tech startups.

Polling just over 2,000 Americans on how they saw the reputation of sectors from technology to grocery and government, Americans still see pharma as one of the lowest in terms of reputation, with 49% having a positive view of the industry. That was up four points since SVB fell into near insolvency last month before the U.S. government stepped in to secure customer deposits.

The report shows that while Americans remain “very negative on the economy,” in general, they don’t see SVB as a new crisis or one that will create more severe economic woe for them.

Still, nearly every sector was down between one and five percentage points last month after the SVB fiasco when it came to reputation. The government, which edged up one point, was the exception.

Pharma was almost immune to the SVB woes and it was, according to Rob Jekielek, managing director at The Harris Poll, trending upward because of decisions by the likes of Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi to drop their insulin prices, which made the biggest impact on the industry.

At the start of March, the world's three premier makers of insulin slashed insulin prices like never before. In a span of less than three weeks, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi—in that order—announced price cuts to some of their insulins in the U.S., answering calls to do so from President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.

The moves are in response to Democrat-led pressure from the government, including a familiar appeal from Biden during this year’s State of the Union address to lower the cost of insulin.

Pharma’s reputation is still down from its peak in 2021 when it was, according to the Harris reports, hovering in the dizzy heights of the low 60s in percentage terms, a height never reached for pharma as the world waited for and then received the first-ever vaccines for COVID-19.

It has gradually slid downward since late 2021 as the COVID-19 crisis abated in the public imagination. This was replaced by concerns over the war that broke out in Ukraine in February 2022 and the linked inflationary pressure that then hit the global economy and Americans’ pockets.  

Pharma’s reputation does, however, remain much higher than the pre-pandemic days when it sat in the mid- to low 30s and even as low as in the 20s in percentage terms, down with the view of government and the health insurance industry.