Pharm Exec's Seventh Annual Media Audit - Pharmaceutical Executive


Pharm Exec's Seventh Annual Media Audit

Pharmaceutical Executive

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 year.

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
, respectively.


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