Shire, Sanofi and Bayer have the best public reps in pharma: Report

Brad Hecht

It's no secret that Big Pharma isn't winning popularity contests, as pricing pressures, safety issues and regulatory drama continue to take their toll on drugmakers' reputations. But some companies fare better than others in the eyes of the American public, racking up points for leadership and good behavior, according to a new report from research firm Reputation Institute.

The firm looked at consumer ratings to gauge the public's perception of pharma companies, and ranked each company on a 100-point scale. One of the biggest drivers of reputation was how the company portrayed itself to the public, rather than the products and services it provided, Brad Hecht, the Reputation Institute's vice president and chief research officer, told FiercePharma. That means some good PR--along with a strong dose of transparency--could actually gain more brownie points with the public, he added.

Provided that it's sincere. "It's not only important to have good pharma products. It's important for the company to be open, transparent and authentic in how they represent themselves," Hecht said. "They have to be perceived as having a positive impact on society, more than just making money."

Shire ($SHPG), the number one company on the firm's list with 77.5 points, embodies this approach, Hecht said. It was the first time the drugmaker was included in the firm's analysis, but its lean and futuristic business model could be what catapulted them to the top of the list. "The way Shire talks and presents itself, it's as a company that takes risks treating rare diseases that frankly don't have the biggest market opportunity. It hits right at the core of the drivers in the pharma space: being authentic and showing stakeholders that what they're doing is better for society," Hecht said.

Sanofi ($SNY) and Bayer were not far behind, with Sanofi grabbing the number two spot and Bayer winning third place in the rankings. AbbVie ($ABBV), Roche ($RHHBY), Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Novartis ($NVS) also made the list with scores in the low 70s. And Takeda, the last company in the rankings, trailed Novartis by a slim margin with 71.09 points.

Bayer, which clinched the top spot on the Reputation Institute's list last year, fell a bit in the rankings, earning 75.83 points in 2015 compared with 76.26 points last year. But the company's reputation will likely improve in the next year or two as the company shifts gears and becomes more focused on its life sciences business and consumer care, Hecht figures.

Other pharma companies could take a similar tack if they want to improve their reputations, he added. Big Pharmas notably absent from the top-reputation list were Pfizer ($PFE), AstraZeneca ($AZN), Merck ($MRK), Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) and Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY).

"Pharma companies have an ability to make an impact on society as a whole. Every opportunity they can take to focus on the benefit to society and be transparent and open in the process, will do nothing but increase their reputation," Hecht said.

- get the Reputation Institute report

Special Report: Top 15 pharma companies by 2014 revenue - Novartis - Roche - Sanofi - Bayer - AbbVie - Eli Lilly