Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Pharmaceutical Industry

New image for the drug industry

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 29 November 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7713

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Deborah Cohen, investigations editor
  1. 1 BMJ, London WC1H 9JR, UK
  1. dcohen{at}

The drug industry is often given a bad press, but Stephen Whitehead, the new head of the ABPI, thinks that it is largely undeserved. Deborah Cohen finds out more about his plans to change our perceptions

If there’s something that Stephen Whitehead, chief executive officer of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), doesn’t like being called it’s a “public relations man”—even though that’s precisely the work experience that has made him eligible to be the figurehead of the British drug industry.

“Reputation is about what you do, not what you say, rather than just sort of PR-ing stuff,” he says.

And he should know. Coming from the financial and alcohol industries, he has a comprehensive understanding of what it means to ward off negative publicity and to try to rebuild a damaged reputation. Most recently he had to defend Prudential’s botched takeover of Asian insurance giant AIA. He and the Pru parted company shortly after, in November 2010.

Not far away from the ABPI’s headquarters in central London protesters camp outside St Paul’s cathedral, aggrieved at the perceived excesses in the City. Though he tentatively agrees that some of the vitriol directed at the financial services industry may be warranted, he’s not so sure that the notoriety of the drug industry is similarly deserved. Reeling off a list of drug discoveries in the past 40 years that include β blockers, H2 receptor antagonists, and antiretrovirals, he maintains that drug companies should be seen in a better light–overlooking, perhaps, some recent high profile industry misdemeanours.

“If you end up looking at all the things the industry has done, you would think people would love it. But they don’t,” he says.

Collaboration is the way forward

Mr Whitehead thinks that the industry is at a turning point. Gone are the days of the blockbuster where …

View Full Text

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription