Pharm Exec's ninth annual audit of media coverage of the industry marks a return to the new normal, with scrutiny finely balanced between two polarizing extremes: skepticism about drug safety against the promise of miracle cures stimulated by the billions spent on new medicines research. Negative coverage continues to be applied with a broad brush, so that the entire industry tends to be associated with the safety and quality problems of a few apostate firms, while the benefits of pharmaceutical research are often implied to be the outgrowth of a shared enterprise involving government and other stakeholders—the "you didn't build that" notion applied to Big Pharma.
The annual audit, sponsored by the Arrupe Center for Business Ethics at Saint Joseph's University, tracks and analyzes industry issues covered by the media. Despite a lull in coverage through most of 2011 that kept negative exposures at bay, prior audits have found that media coverage is largely hostile toward business practices and the positions taken by pharma. This year's audit identifies the "hot button" issues attracting media attention in 2012, compares the issues and how they are covered to the trendline in previous years, and reports on the pharmaceutical companies and brands most often cited in the news. We also followed-up on our analysis of how healthcare reform has been reported by the press.
Some of the top findings for 2012 include:
» Coverage of the industry bounced back up again to 113 articles, increasing 41 percent from the previous survey, but remaining below the five-year annual average of 124 articles.
» Media coverage of the industry continues to be more critical than positive, but over the past six years, coverage is trending less negative. In 2012, 36 percent of articles were negative toward the industry compared to a six-year average of 46 percent negative articles.
» Drug safety continues to be a major focus, moving up the list of hot button issues from second to first place.
» Research and development of new drugs continues to move up the list, attracting more attention this year than ever before.
» Drug prices are receiving less media scrutiny in recent years, falling from second place in 2006 and 2007 to fifth place in 2012.
» Specific pharma companies were identified in the news (70 in 113 articles) at the highest rate since 2009, when there were 88 mentions in 123 articles; Pfizer and Roche's Genentech were the most frequently cited companies.
» Healthcare reform coverage—especially the Affordable Care Act—was up from 10 articles last year to 16 this year, and was predominantly (75 percent) neutral.