From the Editor in Chief—Polishing and Protecting Biopharm's Public Image

Apr 01, 2005
Volume 18, Issue 4

Carol L. Fisher
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 the industry.

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
BioPharm International

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