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
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
"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).
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
"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.