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August 18, 2006
ICCR Benchmarks Pharma Responses to AIDS and Diseases of Poverty in Emerging Markets
    by Bill Baue

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility report assesses 15 pharmaceutical companies, and finds all of them falling short of best practice in most areas on AIDS and neglected diseases.


During the six days of the 16th International AIDS Conference that happened this week in Toronto, some 50,000 people throughout the world died of AIDS (given that an estimated three million die of AIDS per year.) About the same number died of malaria, and slightly less (about 33,000) of tuberculosis. These are two other diseases that disproportionately impact the poor in developing countries--and are known as "neglected diseases" because they receive less attention from pharmaceutical companies than non-fatal problems such as erectile dysfunction.

"These are deaths that can be avoided, lives that can be extended, and people who can be saved, if we choose to save them."

So says a report entitled Benchmarking AIDS: Evaluating Pharmaceutical Company Responses to the Public Health Crisis in Emerging Markets released yesterday at the conference by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR). The report, authored by Dan Rosan, public health program director, and Kieran Hartsough and Lisa Sachs, public health associates at ICCR, assesses current practices by 15 companies and lays out best practices in six broad areas, some of which are broken into sub-categories.

For example, the "research" category further subdivides to look at fixed dose combinations (FDCs), or the consolidation of several antiretroviral drugs into a single pill. The authors note that many of the most effective FDCs involve drugs from different firms, and recommends that firms collaborate instead of mixing only their own products into FDCs. Under the "accessibility" category, the authors recommend voluntary licensing of neglected disease drugs to generic producers in emerging markets.

The analysts rate each company on a scale of 1 (worst) to 5 (best) in all 12 subcategories of the six areas--research, pediatric needs, accessibility, reporting, philanthropy, and political engagement.

Of the seven companies with operations in all 12 subcategories, UK-based GlaxoSmithKline (ticker: GSK) performed best with 39 points cumulatively (3.3 on average). Three US-based companies came next--Merck (MRK) with 38 points (3.2 average), then Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) and Gilead Sciences (GILD) with 37 points (3.1 average.) France-based Sanofi-aventis (SNY), which produces medicines for malaria, polio, and tuberculosis but not AIDS, earned the highest average of 3.5 (21 points in 6 subcategories).

"We found a wide disparity among companies in approaches and in the success of these approaches," write the authors. "For example, Gilead is spearheading fixed-dose-combination development, scoring a 5, well above the industry mean (2.9).

"But Gilead has been hesitant to issue voluntary licenses (score: 2)," they continue. "GlaxoSmithKline has licensed enthusiastically, scoring a 4, but GSK has not engaged in fixed dose combination development (score: 2)."

Of the companies operating in all 12 subcategories, US-based Abbott Laboratories (ABT) and Germany-based Boehringer Ingelheim scored the worst--28 points for a 2.3 average.

"Abbott's lack of collaboration with generic pharmaceutical companies or other branded companies is troubling," states the report. "There is an urgent clinical need for a number of products Abbott could provide: improved pediatric formulations, heat-stable ritonavir, additional FDCs containing ritonavir boosting, and low cost generic lopinavir+ritonavir."

ICCR provided all the pharmaceutical companies included in the report an opportunity to comment on early drafts. In response to this critique, Kevin Callahan of Abbott stated that the company "is open to exploring opportunities for co-formulations with other companies that would represent an advancement over existing treatments for patients."

"No such opportunities appear to be on the horizon," states the report. "Abbott could collaborate with companies such as Bristol-Myers-Squibb, whose atazanavir requires ritonavir boosting, among other possibilities."

The report notes that it is not the first to issue from the investment and activist communities addressing AIDS and the pharma industry--but it goes the furthest in documenting actual pharma company responses to the AIDS and neglected diseases crises.

"If there is one phrase I heard used time and again at the conference it was 'evidence-based advocacy'--and I think evidence is exactly what the ICCR report provides," says Lauren Compere, chief administrative officer at Boston Common Asset Management, which contributed European pharma research to the report. Ms. Compere chairs the HIV/AIDS Campaign at ICCR, a network of 275 faith-based and socially responsible institutional investors with some $110 billion in assets. "I think the report also informs us on where we need to go in terms of our advocacy approach over the next five years."

Ms. Compere echoes the report in advocating for registration of all available drugs in all countries so that programs can get access to them through Presidents Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria money. She also sees opportunities to advocate for price cuts for antiretroviral treatments.

"We have seen leadership in this area already with Abbott and others coming out with a fixed price on certain key drugs and would hope that other pharma companies would follow suit," Ms. Compere told SocialFunds.com.

 

 
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