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Pharma and ESG – The Patient Perspective: The business case for patient centricity in ESG

PatientView announces, 30th June, the launch of new research into the importance of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria in pharma for patient groups. The new report examines:

  • Patient-group familiarity with ESG
  • The need for pharma companies to develop ESG strategies in partnership with patient groups
  • Potential for increased revenue and growth through these partnerships
  • How 47 leading pharma companies perform for ESG—from a patient perspective

Patient groups are an increasingly potent force for change in the healthcare system and act as key advocates on the behalf of patients. This first-of-its-kind report gives pharma companies greater insight into the increasing impact and importance ESG has in the minds of their users, along with greater clarity over the rise of investment opportunities for ESG-integrated companies. Pharma and investors alike should look at patients, pharma’s key customer group, as a stakeholder able to provide an objective and rounded voice for patients on their ESG efforts.

The financial case for looking at ESG for asset managers and investors has been clear since the term was first dubbed in 2005 by the United Nationals Global Compact Office. With global ESG assets on track to exceed $53 trillion by 2025, pharma hasn’t been slow to realise the significance of the momentum and have largely created in-house policies, but these don’t always align with the perspective of their most important customer – the patient groups they serve, who increasingly are selecting pharma companies for their ESG practices.

Patient-group familiarity with ESG 

Although the terms ‘environmental, social, and governance’ are far from being universally embedded in the patient experience or in healthcare culture, recognition of the purpose and definition of ESG is growing slowly among patient groups.

  • 55% of patient groups responding to a 2021 PatientView survey stated that they “Did not know” about pharma’s ESG activities (a decrease on the 61% of respondent patient groups stating the same to the 2020 survey).

Investor-biased ESG efforts recognised by patient groups 

Crucially, most of those patient groups that do follow pharma’s ESG attempts feel that its targets and activities should be redefined for the benefit of patients and the public. There is a fear articulated by some respondent patient groups that pharma’s ESG measures have, to date, been based on demands laid down by shareholders (and investors), rather than being genuine improvements made on behalf of the environment and society, including the patients the companies serve.

ESG “could be better if we dared to serve humanity ahead of shareholders”, argued a national Parkinson’s patient group from Sweden.

A significant number of patient groups (320) felt knowledgeable enough on ESG to provide independent commentaries in which they attempted to define criteria ESG practices, the result of which can define who they work with.

Patient groups actively seeking out ESG-compliant pharma companies

Importantly, one national skin-conditions patient group from Australia pointed out that organisations like their own use ESG as a means to decide the companies with which they should work: “It is important to consider the environment, social, and governance of a pharmaceutical company, in regards to their reputation or brand, in order to evaluate if they are a good choice to work with.”

  • “While all companies strive for profit, I think companies that collaborate and ethically/sustainably contribute to society will be remembered as growing and successful businesses.” – National arthritis patient group from Korea.

Patients feel ignored by pharma 

Collaboration with these groups is paramount to future-proofing ESG strategies, with the report revealing that of the 670 patient groups that thought themselves knowledgeable about pharma’s ESG agenda:

  • 15% believed that none of the companies had adopted effective ESG strategies. From the feedback received the remaining respondents felt that pharma still had a lot more to do.
  • 26% stated that they had received no communication from pharma on company ESG activities.

The financial benefits for pharma including patients in their ESG plans rings out in the testimonies of many patient groups.

  • “Sustainability; ethical principles; non-political, win-win orientation in business—and, not in the least, patient centricity.” —International blood-cancers patient group, Romania
  • “Our organisation assesses the improvement in the provision of healthcare by pharmaceutical companies a lot. That footprint goes beyond developing medicines, vaccines, supplies, and diagnostic tests, to meeting the medical needs that are pressing in the world. A lot of companies perform this work on sustainability and responsibility, but it is not central for them. Finally, we assess the environmental impacts that the companies cause.” —National arthritis patient group, Brazil

How 47 pharma companies perform for ESG—from a patient perspective

Patient groups were posed two key questions about individual pharma-company performance on ESG:

  1. “If you were asked to make a definite choice: Which three companies were ‘best’ in 2021 at … Adopting an ‘Environmental, Social, and Governance’ (ESG) agenda—from the perspective of the patients known to your organisation?”
  2. “If you were asked to make a definite choice: Which three companies were ‘best’ in 2021 at … Communicating their performance at ‘Environmental, Social, and Governance’ (ESG) to patient groups?”

The five pharma companies ranking top at ESG in 2021 (and 2020), from the perspective of patient groups familiar with the company are; Roche (Genentech/Chugai), Pfizer, ViiV Healthcare, Gilead Sciences, and Horizon Therapeutics.

For the past two decades, UK-based PatientView has undertaken regular evidence-based research into the different perspectives of patient organisations around the world on a range of issues. PatientView’s reach among these patient organisations is unique, with as many as 40,000 such groups in informal networks.

PatientView would like to thank the patient groups and health campaigners who gave up their time to respond to the 2021 ESG survey (results published June 2022).

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