The Biotechnology International Organization (BIO) just released an opinion survey compiling results from three different demographic groups of attitudes on the biotechnology industry. Working with Alex Bratty from Public Opinion Strategies and Geoff Garin BIO surveyed 169 biotech industry execs online and called 800 voters in the general public in April and May of 2012, and interviewed 1,402 US attendees of the BIO Convention in Boston on June 18 and 19. Respondents in all three categories were generally held a positive outlook of biotechnology industry, although there is a sizeable portion of the general public unfamiliar with the biotech sector.
The Perspective of Biotech Executives
Of the biotech industry executives, 63% are very optimistic about the future of the industry. This is tempered a bit from the 79% of executives that were very optimistic about the future of the industry in 2007 when a similar survey was done. Consistent with this, 73% of the executives anticipated rapid advancement on new drugs and other biotechnology products, whereas, in 2007, 93% of the executives were optimistic.
The main reason for the executives’ slight cooling of enthusiasm this year compared with 5 years ago seems to be concerns about future investment levels in biotech, and need for tax and government policies to promote this investment. Also, 68% were concerned about partisan government gridlock over the next several years.
The lack of available capital was cited as a concern by 62% of the execs this year but was only a concern of 32% of the execs in 2007. Over three-quarters (77%) of executives thought the government should encourage private investment through tax incentives. Corporate taxes were cited as a concern by 27% of the executives this year versus just 9% in 2007.
Another concern of the executives focused on FDA regulation and the drug approval process. 82% thought the drug approval process needs more transparency and improvements to accelerate reviews.
General Public View of Biotech
44% of the general public holds a favorable impression of the biotechnology industry. However, the rest of the public is certainly not anti-biotech. In fact, 22% do not have any impression of biotech.
However, when a brief description of what biotechnology companies do that includes the goals of using gene technology to discover and improve drugs, develop alternative fuel sources, and address world hunger by improving crops and food sources was provided to interviewees, the favorable impression of the industry jumps to 83%. Obviously, most people would likely support these objectives so the question may be somewhat baited. However, the numbers do clearly indicate there is work to do in regard to educating the general public about the biotech industry.
On more general policy issues, 56% of the general public believe the government should be more involved in helping the biotech industry, either by providing funds directly or through tax policies, and 65% support FDA reform to expedite drug approval even though this could compromise drug safety. In other words, most consider the benefit of getting new, possibly more effective, drugs launched faster worth a bit more risk.
BIO Convention Attendees Thoughts on Their Industry
Of course, among the convention attendees, 93% view biotech very favorable. It is the Biotechnology International Trade Organisation after all! About 80% of both the general public and BIO attendees prioritized finding cures for serious diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s, and AIDS as one of the most important national priorities— second only to improving the economy.
The BIO attendees did, however, put slightly higher priorities than the general public on some of the other non-drug related biotechnology objectives, such developing biofuels, alleviating hunger, and the improvement of agricultural crops. Although both groups thought these objectives were important, the priority was about 10 points lower for the general public.
One Overall Message from All Groups Surveyed
In general, all groups surveyed were very positive about biotechnology. Almost all concerns relating to the biotech industry’s ability to rapidly move forward with its objectives to provide new drugs, improve agriculture, and provide renewable energy sources revolved around policy and political issues. Despite possible deficiencies in science understanding, the American public does seem to have faith that science and scientists, or at least bioscience and bioscientists, are up to tackling the challenges we currently face. The questions are whether they will get the government support needed to meet these goals.