November 29, 2012
Pharmaceutical Firms are Improving Access of World's Poor to Medicine
by Robert Kropp
The 2012 Access to Medicine Index finds that the pharmaceutical industry has improved its
performance in delivering products to developing nations, but needs to improve lobbying
transparency and oversight of clinical trials.
The 2012 Access to Medicine Index, an important indicator as to whether
the world's largest pharmaceutical companies are contributing to the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
relating to public health, was published this week by the Netherlands-based Access to Medicine
Four of the eight MDGs address health
issues in developing nations, "and more than a decade of increased international attention on
improving the health of people in the developing world has borne fruit," the Index reports. "The
leading pharmaceutical companies have also played a significant role, collaborating with the global
health community to address the needs."
The biennial Index ranks the 20 largest
pharmaceutical companies in seven major areas: medicine management, public policy and market
influence, equitable pricing, patents and licensing, advancement in product development, and
philanthropic activities. The goal of such measurements is to increase the availability,
accessibility, affordability, and quality of pharmaceutical products for the world's poor.
When the 2010 Index was published, Wim Leereveld, the Chairman of the Access to Medicine
Foundation, told SocialFunds.com that the focus of the Index had shifted from policies to
practices. He said, "The most important measurements are management practices, patent and pricing
issues, and the research and development pipelines of pharmaceutical companies."
priority of the Index remains focused in 2012 on practice; and generally, it found, "The industry
has made some important advances over the last two years, with the development of simpler and more
affordable HIV and malaria diagnostics, and dramatic advances in laboratory-based tuberculosis
diagnostic technology. In addition to engaging in innovative research, product development
partnerships have made significant progress in adapting existing products."
show how large the impacts of pharmaceutical innovation, development and good practice can be," the
Index continued, "and it is due to such impacts that pharmaceutical companies have become
increasingly important in tackling the MDGs related to health."
As it did in 2010,
GlaxoSmithKline ranked first among the 20 pharmaceutical companies in 2012. Since 2010, the Index
reports, the firm has "established a Developing Countries and Market Access unit as a department
dedicated to access, bringing all its businesses in Least Developed Countries under one umbrella,
supported by a new lower price/higher volume business model."
New to the top three in this
year's rankings are Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi. Johnson & Johnson "has consolidated its access
activities under one business unit, which has resulted in a more strategic and integrated approach,
and to its acquisition of Crucell, which has increased the relevance of its research and
development investments." And Sanofi has exhibited "strong performance in public policy and market
influence, a large investment in research and development and good practice in the management of
Merck was the fastest-rising company in the Index, improving by nine
places due to "its detailed disclosure around its tiered pricing schemes."
Among the key
findings overall are that more companies are devoting substantial percentages of their product
pipelines to products for developing countries, and using tiered pricing schemes for more products
and countries. However, the Index found, "The majority of companies provide no evidence of exerting
real influence over the way Contract Research Organizations conduct trials on their behalf." Only
four companies were shown to use disciplinary measures to ensure that CROs were conducting clinical
trials in ethical ways.
Most companies should also improve transparency around their
lobbying activities, the Index concluded.
"This year's Index shows that companies are
becoming more organized internally in their approach to access to medicine," Leereveld said.
"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.
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."
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