A ranking of how pharmaceutical companies are improving access to medicines for all patients has shown that the companies are improving but still have a very long way to go. Swiss-based companies feature both high up and low down on the list.
The Access to Medicine indexexternal link, which has been published every two years since 2008 looks at how manufacturers and developers of drugs can improve people’s access to medicines. Swiss-based Novartis came in at third place in the ranking, moving up one place since the last edition. It was topped only by Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline.
The index found that in general, companies are not targeting countries with the highest needs for new drugs to be registered there. The index has a priority list of countries, and says that companies tried to register new medicines in only a quarter of countries on that list. To add to this, only 5% of products have been made affordable for the different socioeconomic population groups that need them.
The lack of research and development projects for high-priority, low-incentive products was also a criticism that came out of the index. A number of diagnostic products for diseases such as dengue fever, cholera and tuberculosis were seen as lacking, along with some vaccines and other products.
The companies are given a mark out of five, and assessed on various areas such as general access to medicine management; market influence and compliance; research and development; pricing, manufacturing and distribution; patents and licensing; capacity building; and product donations.
Novartis scored 4.9/5 when it came to general access to medicine management. According to the ranking, it has corporate strategy in place that means the environmental, social and economic impact of its business are monitored, the perspectives of local stakeholders are considered and it is said to be transparent about its outcomes.
Another Swiss-based major player in the pharmaceuticals business, Roche ranked at 19th place out of the 20 companies in the analysis. It declined to provide data to the index, saying that oncology, which is not in the index scope, is its main focus for improving access to medicine. However the index, using publicly available data and past information, concluded it can still improve access in certain areas. Given this, Roche performed well in market influence and compliance, but badly in general access; research and development; pricing, manufacturing and distribution; and capacity building.
Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturers came under fire in recent years over the transparency of trials for drugs such as Tamiflu with Roche, and Diovan under Novartis.
The Access to Medicine ranking is funded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK and Dutch governments. It says that at least two billion people cannot get access to the drugs that they need, and argue the ranking helps companies compare themselves to others, and to look at how their products match the needs of the people.