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
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
The 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
"Such examples 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 clinical trials."
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
"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