Roche, Pfizer and Novartis earn top marks from cancer patient groups during pandemic: survey

cancer newspaper
Cancer patient groups gave good marks to the pharma industry during the pandemic, although some companies went above and beyond. (PDPics/Pixabay)

The pandemic colored most opinions last year—including patient opinions about pharma. Cancer patients, often sidelined at home during the crisis, were paying particularly close attention to pharma company actions.

The good news is that pharma generally fared well with cancer patients during the pandemic. Fifty-eight percent of advocacy groups rated pharma's reputation as excellent or good in 2020, a slight increase from 54% during the previous year, according to a new survey from PatientView.

The industry's response to the COVID-19 crisis also got high marks. Sixty-nine percent of cancer groups rated the industry as very effective or effective. Many noted that the industry made helpful products, innovated and worked to ensure patient safety.

Still, the less-good news is that a handful of pharma companies went above and beyond to pull up overall sentiment, while other individual companies lagged.

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The high achievers in the view of cancer patient groups were Roche/Genentech, Pfizer and Novartis—ranked in that order.

“There were some exceptional companies, but on the whole, pharma put their relationships with patient groups on hold," Alex Wyke, founder and CEO of PatientView, said. "Some even asked for money back when milestones weren’t met. It was only the companies that were really exceptional that stepped up."

Roche, in particular, rose to the top of PatientView's surveys—not only among cancer patient groups but in general. Specific to the cancer survey, Wyke noted an example of Roche's stepped-up behavior from a cancer patient group in Italy. It reported Roche was helping patients with home shopping during the pandemic, plus picking up and delivering prescription drugs from the pharmacy.

When Wyke asked Roche how it managed so well, the pharma told her that before the pandemic it already had developed single point of contacts with patient groups. When the lockdowns began, the company quickly turned to those contacts to improve its response.

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Other pharma companies that performed well included Merck KGaA and U.S. subsidiary EMD Serono, which moved up to seven spots to No. 7 out of 33 companies, and GlaxoSmithKline, which also rose seven places in 2020 to No. 12.

Still, the survey did uncover some areas where pharma could have done better. Cancer patient groups wanted more information, like details on how COVID-19 might affect specific cancers or how to handle cancer treatments and vaccinations. They also thought pharma could have done better adapting hospital treatments for home use during the pandemic.

“The whole attitude toward pharma corporate reputation was very much colored by how companies responded in the COVID crisis, and for cancer patient groups and cancer patients it was particularly important,” Wyke said.

The PatientView survey collected opinions from 409 cancer patient groups during November 2020 through February 2021.