A recently published report has revealed that less than 13 per cent of US consumers believe that information provided by pharmaceutical companies is more trustworthy than healthcare information provided by other organisations.
Revelations revealed in this report will confirm what most industry analysts have long confirmed. The Vioxx scandal, along with safety concerns over Bextra, Zyprexa, and Seroxat, had all but sounded the death knoll on what was already a fragile reputation.
"The new research also finds that public opinion has the potential to negatively impact individual pharmaceutical companies far more dramatically than increased federal regulations," said Datamonitor eHealth analyst Kimberly O'Malley.
"In fact many consumers now question whether pharmaceutical companies have their best interests in mind when marketing a product."
These doubts, in combination with soaring drug costs and shrinking product pipelines, pose an imminent danger to an industry that relies increasingly on word-of-mouth to create brand awareness and loyalty.
Pharmaceutical companies are understandably aware of public opinion. In July 29 of this year the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America's (PhRMA) Board of Directors approved the pharmaceutical industry's Guiding Principles on direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising.
By adopting these principles (the new PhRMA guidelines go into effect January 1, 2006), the US pharmaceutical industry is proactively assuming an increasingly rigorous self-regulatory role.
Bristol-Myers Squibb has voluntarily established a 12-month ban on DTC promotional advertising following the launch of a new product.
The Guiding Principles specify only that "companies should spend an appropriate amount of time to educate health professionals about a new medicine or a new therapeutic indication before commencing the first DTC advertising campaign," said O'Malley.
Datamonitor's report found that while moratoriums on broadcast and print DTC ads may initially negatively impact sales of new products, waiting periods send the message to consumers that patient safety is a priority for the pharmaceutical industry.
Long-term however, companies may want to reconsider whether applying a set waiting period to all new products is optimal as there are many complex factors that manufacturers must take into account when deciding if a drug is publicly promotable.
"The PhRMA Guiding Principles are more stringent than current FDA requirements, this action should both reassure consumers and make further federal regulation unnecessary," O'Malley said.
"Compliance with PhRMA's Guiding Principles will undoubtedly improve the reputation of the pharmaceutical industry in the eyes of consumers."
The report believes that recommendations from fellow consumers - specifically individuals who author blogs, participate in chat rooms or post to web boards - are gaining increased influence in the market.
"Datamonitor believes that recommendations based on the experiences of other consumers will become an increasingly influential part of patients' decision making processes."
Increased safety warnings attached to some drugs (Roche's Accutane and GlaxoSmithKline's Paxil) and the complete market withdrawals of Merck's Vioxx have undermined consumer confidence in both the pharmaceutical industry and the products it produces.
However despite consumers' misgivings, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Datamonitor commented that the pharmaceutical industry remains in a strong position to become a trusted source of information and services in the future, provided more stringent standards of practice are adopted.