Patient groups want pharma to improve on ESG—and are pushing for a seat at the table

Patient groups are taking matters into their own hands. Frustrated by pharma’s reluctance to engage on environmental, social and governance (ESG) topics, patient representatives are pushing for a bigger role in shaping policies—and are considering the subject when deciding whether to work with a company.

Those findings come from a PatientView survey (PDF), of 832 patient groups from around the world, that offers a snapshot of how pharma is perceived in 2023. Pharma’s ESG performance and reputation has historically lagged behind other industries, in part because of scandals and pricing controversies, but a series of actions at companies including AstraZeneca, GSK and Merck & Co. suggests a desire to improve.

The industry is yet to win over all patient groups, in part because many people polled by PatientView are struggling to determine exactly what companies are doing. Almost half of respondents said it is difficult or impossible to find useful information on the ESG goals and performance of most pharma companies. A representative of a U.K. arthritis group said ESG has never come up in talks with pharma employees.

“I wonder if it’s on their agenda at all,” the patient representative said.

That perception is a problem for pharma. Around two-thirds of respondents said the impact companies have on society is very important to their organizations. Almost as many respondents view a company’s standards of corporate governance as very important. The impact of companies on the environment is a  lower priority, but 34% of respondents see it as very important and most of the rest view it as important. 

Pharma companies that fail to live up to ESG expectations risk missing out on opportunities to work with patient groups. Most respondents sometimes or always consider ESG when deciding whether to work with a company. Questions of whether companies address societal issues and ensure effective corporate governance are again the top priorities, with 76% and 67% of people respectively considering them.

Many patient groups are working to ensure companies have ESG policies that they can get behind. The survey found 52% of the polled patient groups are advocating for a bigger role in companies’ efforts to improve their ESG. A further 21% of respondents would like to start advocating for ESG policy changes.