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Big Pharma Expands Access to Medicines


The top pharmaceutical companies have improved access to their products in developing countries, developing more products for more diseases that disproportionately impact the world's poor and providing tiered pricing schemes.

This article published with permission from The Burrill Report.

The top pharmaceutical companies have improved access to their products in developing countries, according to the Access to Medicine Foundation’s latest ratings.

“This year’s index shows that companies are becoming more organized internally in their approach to access to medicine,” says Wim Leereveld, founder and chief executive officer of the foundation, which just issued it bi-annual index.

The index grades companies on more than 100 factors covering areas that include whether they are developing new drugs for neglected diseases, to what extent they facilitate or resist efforts to create generic versions of their drugs, and how they approach pricing in developing countries. Lobbying activities, marketing ethics, product donations, and other philanthropic activities are also tracked.

GlaxoSmithKline topped the overall index in recognition of its New Developing Countries and Market Access Unit business model, which the foundation says is “driven equally by commercial and social objectives in 50 emerging markets.” The company’s open innovation strategy was also noted for its goal of stimulating research into diseases of the developing world.

Johnson & Johnson (No. 2) and Sanofi (No. 3), both new to the top three, followed GSK. Of the 20 companies on the list, 17 performed better than they did at the time of the last index report in 2010, with Merck KGaA, Johnson & Johnson and Bayer improving most. AstraZeneca fell down the rankings most significantly, followed by Boehringer-Ingelheim, Novartis and Roche.

J&J fared well in the ranking due largely to a consolidation of its access activities under one business unit, resulting in a more strategic and integrated approach, says the foundation. J&J was also helped by its acquisition of vaccine maker Crucell, increasing the relevance of its research and development investments.

Japanese companies Takeda Pharmaceutical, Daiichi Sankyo and Astellas Pharma took the bottom three slots in the index, as they did in the ranking’s last publication, in 2010.

The Access to Medicine Foundation says that most companies are developing more products for more diseases that disproportionately impact the world’s poor and collaborating more in the process than they were two years ago, with some now devoting as much as 20% of their pipeline to developing products that address the needs of the poor. In addition, tiered pricing schemes are also being used to lower prices for certain countries or population groups.

However, there are still areas where all companies could improve their approaches significantly, says the foundation. These include being more transparent about their lobbying practices, expanding their tiered pricing schemes, adapting packaging to local needs, making their drug donations more needs-based and allowing their clinical trial data to be used to accelerate the approval of generic medicines in developing countries.

The group also pointed to lagging transparency around the outsourcing of clinical trials to contract research organizations, which are often hired to conduct trials in developing countries. Only four companies — Merck, Sanofi, GSK and Eisai — provided evidence to the foundation that they use disciplinary measures to ensure that outsourced trials are conducted safely and ethically.

“Access to medicine is a multi-faceted challenge and therefore responsibility for improving it lies with a number of different actors, but the pharmaceutical industry has a critical role to play,” says Leereveld. “While the index shows it has made strides in many areas, companies that have sector-leading practices also show us there is more the industry can contribute.”

Copyright 2012 Burrill & Company. For more life sciences news and information, visit www.burrillreport.com.

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