The pharmaceutical industry has taken some major black eyes over the past few years – and justifiably so. Recently, we’ve seen the consumer price of vital medications go up by amounts that can only be described as obscene.
At the same time, corporate profits and CEO compensation packages are at all-time highs. It comes as little surprise that Big Pharma is among the most hated industries in America. And, like natural people, the corporate “people” of the pharmaceutical industry worry about their image almost as much as they worry about their revenues and profit margins.
In response to growing anger and criticism of the industry and Donald Trump’s recent accusation, the lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has launched a new, multi-million dollar public relations campaign.
Stealing a bit of thunder from the late Gene Roddenberry, the campaign is called “Go Boldly.” The campaign’s initial television ad is titled “Do Not Go Gentle,” and consists of images of scientists at work and patients undergoing treatment, accompanied by a recitation of the Dylan Thomas poem. The second ad, which will be appearing in print and online, is called “Cells,” and showcases scientific research being done at the cellular level.
Not surprisingly, neither of the ads address the issue of drug pricing.
The publicity campaign will continue for at least four, and possibly five years. According to an industry spokesperson, PhRMA will be spending tens of millions of dollars ever year in order to convince the public that the industry is not the blood-sucking, exploitative corporate monster that America thinks it is. PhRMA head Stephen Ubl says, “This industry is the crown jewel of the American economy…we have a great story to tell and we’re going to do a better job telling it.”
The problem is that while the work of the pharmaceutical industry may indeed be providing treatments and increasing the quality of life for many, drug prices continue their uncontrolled upward spiral. Big Pharma’s cause was not helped by people like Martin Shkreli, who thumbed his nose at a critical public after purchasing the rights to an old medication and raised the price by 5,000 percent.
Ira Loss, Executive Vice President and Senior Healthcare Analyst at Washington Analysis, points out that “the industry was led into [its image] problem by the rogue players….but to some degree, it’s justly deserved.” He adds, “I don’t think there’s much they can do to change their reputation.”
In fact, there are a few things the industry could do to rehabilitate its image. For starters, they could stop buying off legislators on Capitol Hill. They could pay their CEOs a reasonable salary instead of multi-million dollar compensation packages, and perhaps cut back on the private jets with gold-plated fixtures. They could limit their markups.
But they won’t be doing that. Instead, they’ll be spending upwards of $100 million (for starters) in order to convince a skeptical American public that they are the “good guys.”
As long as drug prices continue to climb out of reach of patients who need them, that’s going to be money down the toilet that might be better spent on research on cures (as opposed to treatments) and making those medications more affordable.