The survey showed that only 14 per cent of those taking part in the survey estimated the figure approximately correctly, while almost the same proportion - 13 per cent - believed that it took up more than half the NHS budget.
"People will be astonished to discover that all the benefits they have come to associate with modern medicines are achieved at such relatively low cost to the NHS," said Dr Trevor Jones, Director General of the ABPI.
The survey also showed that, while an overwhelming majority of people want medicines to be a top priority for scientific research in Britain, 63 per cent do not know that this is already the case. The pharmaceutical industry funds about one-third of the UK's industrial R&D, amounting to nearly £9 million every day. In fact, the UK is second only to the USA in discovering new treatments, and a quarter of the world's top 100 medicines originated here.
But there is overwhelming support for the Government taking more steps to help medicines research, and for it to encourage pharmaceutical companies to invest in the country. Both principles attracted about 90 per cent backing, with only three or four per cent of people disagreeing.
"People may not understand just how much effort actually goes into medicines research, but these results make it clear that they do understand its importance," said Dr Jones. "The message is clear that the industry's ability to innovate and provide world-beating medicines have the support of people in the UK."
Cancer is named by most people as the greatest threat to health. It is the disease for which 62 per cent of people would like a cure and 46 per cent of people are more afraid of contracting it than any other disease. It is also identified, jointly with heart disease, as the nation's biggest killer.
The good news for Britain is that the pharmaceutical industry has also targeted cancer as one of its prime targets for medicines research. It has been estimated that some 500 new medicines are in various stages of clinical trial.
"Thanks to researchers working in Britain, including those in the pharmaceutical industry, our understanding of the various types of cancer has increased enormously over the past decade. The result is that cancer is no longer necessarily the death sentence that it used to be, and more advances are in the pipeline" said Dr Jones.
For further information, please contact: ABPI Press Office 020 7747 1410