Companies and Products
Companies mentioned most frequently in 2010 were Merck (13 times), GlaxoSmithKline (13), and Pfizer (12), each involved in
major news stories for drug safety and/or efficacy. The results of the trial known as ARBITER 6, questioning the efficacy of Merck's cholesterol drug, Zetia, received ample attention. Similarly, drug safety reports about
GSK's Avandia and ongoing troubles with Paxil were reported widely. Johnson & Johnson/McNeil garnered attention after receiving
a warning letter from the FDA for a musty or moldy odor of certain products, leading to product recalls of McNeil's children's
Tylenol products, including Tylenol, Motrin, and Benadryl.
Next was coverage about merger and acquisition strategies. The brands most frequently cited were Wyeth's Phenergan and Pfizer's
Lipitor. Lipitor received extensive coverage as it is the world's best-selling drug and is slated to go off patent later this
Implications for Industry
The media continues to track the industry closely. Yet despite the tendency toward negative coverage, there is recognition
of the industry's capacity to develop and implement solutions to medical problems as evidenced by migration of the hot-button
issue of flu vaccines to the most-reported issue. This coverage specifically highlighted industry contributions to a public
health threat and showcased the challenges facing companies struggling to keep pace with patient and provider expectations—a
"cure" for influenza is not simply achieved through wide distribution.
In addition, individual companies continue to shape overall attitudes toward industry reputation, particularly where safety
is concerned. Adverse publicity from Johnson & Johnson over the counter-recall initiatives was the driver behind the rise
in negative views of the industry last year. The same trend is evident on broader topics such as health reform. Coverage about
it was down by 6.1 percent in 2009 and was more neutral (77 percent versus 70.9 percent) last year. However, Republican efforts
to rescind the entire bill and the anticipated Congressional debate about implementing key provisions is likely to increase
media coverage in 2011—and the partisan nature of the debates to date suggests that coverage will be more polarized. How much
damage this does to Big Pharma will depend, in part, on the legality of its promotional activities as well as the visibility
of its lobbyists. Assuming there are no off-label promotions and the lobbyists are invisible, adverse publicity may be minimized.
Pharma also now has the opportunity to work constructively with other stakeholders on innovative ways to deliver healthcare,
such as states seeking grants to introduce accountable care organizations or to administer the new medical insurance exchanges.
This could be a source of "free earned media" if companies play it right by being seen as motivated by a desire to enhance
value in the healthcare system.
George Sillup is Associate Professor and Stephen Porth is Associate Dean and Arrupe Fellow at St. Joseph's University. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org