You don't really care what people say about you (the biopharm industry) behind your back, do you? According to a recent survey
of 670 BioPharm International subscribers, conducted by Derek Ellison from Eden BioDesign, some of you care very much about the public's perception of
Carol L. Fisher
The most perplexing question Derek asked the respondents was to name the most important issue they felt the industry needed
to tackle to ensure that biotechnology's potential is fully realized into new medicines over the next decade. Within two of
the twelve categories into which he grouped the responses, some of you stated that how the industry represents itself, along
with the public's opinion of the field, are most important. These were not in the top four categories of responses, yet I
think it's worthy of note, especially because the question required a written response — no one was prompted by existing choices
to remind them of the issues. (Read "Developing the Future: Big Questions, Multiple Answers" for more survey results.)
Even within the broader query of naming just one issue, image beat out "greater financing of biotech companies." That caught
me by surprise, I guess because there isn't a week that goes by that I don't hear about biotech's need for more financing.
(A new trend is evolving, though, so don't miss StreetTalk.) However, more of you are concerned about industry image and public
opinion than meets the eye, which is promising if it results in future action.
Another reason I think this answer is noteworthy is because I heard the same message expressed at cPMP 2005, the annual plant-made
pharma conference. It first appeared in the form of a major announcement during one of the plenary sessions — Albert van der
Zeijden, chair of the International Alliance of Patient's Organizations, unveiled the IAPO's first-ever briefing paper, which
offers evidence-based research on PMP science and technology. The reason it was developed and made available gratis to patient
organizations and patients advocates worldwide is to equip people with accurate information about PMPs so, ultimately, they
can make informed judgements and influence future policy decisions based on accurate information.
Right now, the public's opinion of the biopharm industry is most likely garnered from advertising or selective news coverage
of ideas promulgated by professional ethicists, politicians, lawyers, advocacy groups, and a few religious leaders. It can
only benefit the industry if we are proactive in nurturing public awareness of all biopharm's assets. Also, shouldn't the
industry itself take charge of creating and delivering the message, rather than leaving it in the hands of someone whose agenda
may not exactly coincide with all the facts?
Drs. Edna Einsiedel and Jennifer Medlock of the University of Calgary conducted a study on perceptions of plant molecular
farming in conjunction with Genome Prairie. One of their major findings — that public involvement is paramount — resulted
in two spheres of thinking: "Educate the public and they will be won over," and "Engage the public because their voices need
to shape policy." Sounds like a good place to begin.
Carol L. Fisher, Editor in Chief