Pharma keeps pandemic halo in eyes of UK public, but pricing is a problem

Pharma is hanging on to its pandemic halo. That is the conclusion of a survey by trade group ABPI, which found the percentage of people in the U.K. with a favorable view of the industry has held up since it got a boost from the COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

ABPI ran its first survey in July 2020. At that time, half of people had a mainly or very favorable view of pharma companies in the U.K. The figure ticked up to 55% as the COVID-19 vaccination campaign kicked into gear early in 2021. Having slipped back to around 50% in subsequent surveys, the figure rose to 53% in the latest poll, which ABPI conducted in April.

The favorability trend mirrors ABPI’s other measures of public attitudes to the industry. The proportion of people who trust the industry is lower, peaking at 34% in March 2021, but has held up as the COVID-19 crisis has eased. The proportion of people who trust pharma rose slightly to 32% in the latest survey.

As in other assessments of pharma’s reputation, the industry fared well on perceptions of innovation and badly on the topic of price. Most respondents said they at least tend to agree that pharma produces effective medicines and vaccines, employs highly skilled staff and plays a leading role in discovering new medicines.

In contrast, 29% of respondents said companies are open and transparent about medicine pricing, and 25% said the industry prices medicines fairly. Around half, 54%, of people said the U.K. health service pays too much for drugs. ABPI published the data amid negotiations with the government over a pricing scheme that companies including AbbVie and Eli Lilly have left. ABPI has called the scheme “punitive.”

The survey also polled healthcare professionals. Around one-third, 35%, of surveyed HCPs said they trust pharma companies operating in the U.K. The figure puts pharma behind health charities and universities that conduct medicine R&D, each of which is trusted by more than half of HCPs, but ahead of businesses in other industries, namely tech, food, banking, automobiles and energy.