May 23, 2024 - Health

Weight-loss drugs help lift pharma's reputation

Line chart showing the share of U.S. adults who say they rate each select U.S. industry positively with a positive score referring to 5, 6, or 7 on a scale from 1-7. From 2016-2020, less than 40% had a positive view of the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries. The share who said they had a positive view of these industries peaked at around 60% in 2021 before decreasing. As of 2024, the share who said they had a positive view was 53% for the pharmaceutical industry,48% for the health insurance industry, 55% for financial services, 61% retail and 70% for technology.
Data: Harris/Axios 100 Poll; Chart: Axios Visuals

The blockbuster success of new anti-obesity drugs helped boost the corporate reputations of pharmaceutical brands, according to new rankings from the annual Axios/Harris Poll 100.

Why it matters: For now, drugmakers are largely getting a pass from the public on the high prices of these transformational treatments, even as inflation-weary consumers have soured on other industries over price hikes.

  • The poll also marks a rebound for pharma, which had seen its reputation decline after soaring to record heights amid the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines.

The big picture: Novo Nordisk, whose market-leading drugs Ozempic and Wegovy have become cultural and economic phenomena over the last year, is the first pharmaceutical company to crack the poll's top 30 since the start of the pandemic.

  • The Danish drugmaker, which didn't even appear in the poll's top 100 last year, is ranked among the least polarizing companies and among Republicans' top 10 trusted brands.
  • The spotlight on Novo casts a glow on the rest of the industry, with more than half of consumers (53%) rating pharma positively. That was nearly two times above an industry low point in 2007, but still below its pandemic high of 62%.
  • Of those who said they're familiar with the diabetes and anti-obesity drugs known as GLP-1 agonists, 55% said the medications have a positive impact on the industry's reputation.

What they're saying: "In an environment where Americans at large are really being more picky ... the pharma industry has come back with Novo Nordisk and something that has real innovation and seemingly a real consumer benefit," Harris Poll CEO John Gerzema told Axios.

State of play: Novo has faced increased scrutiny over its pricing of Ozempic and Wegovy, as insurers and employers worried about their budgets placed tougher rules on who could access the drugs.

  • The drugs are listed at around $13,000 to $16,000 per year, but generally cost less after accounting for discounts and rebates.
  • Novo and GLP-1 rival Eli Lilly have also struggled to meet the astounding demand for their treatments, which have shown early promise for treating a range of conditions beyond obesity.
  • Pharma's leading critic in Congress, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), in recent weeks has launched an investigation into the "outrageous" U.S. pricing of Wegovy, warning it could bankrupt the U.S. health care system.

The bottom line: The pricing of these treatments hasn't yet seemed to factor into how consumers view the industry, Gerzema said, calling this moment "the honeymoon phase."

  • "Americans, particularly under stretched budgets are going to hold companies to a higher standard," Gerzema said. "They're going to reward real innovation."

Go deeper: America's weight-loss drug boom, explained

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