GSK, J&J Lead in 2016 Access to Medicines Index

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Despite some progress, pharmaceutical companies have a long way to go in making their products accessible and affordable, this year's study finds.

For the fifth year in a row, GSK has topped the Access to Medicines Index, the 2016 version of which was released on November 14.  The Index, which ranks the world’s top 20 name-brand pharmaceutical companies based on how well they are making their products accessible to underserved patient communities, found Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Merck KGaA, Merck and Co. Inc., Sanofi, AstraZeneca PLC, Gilead Sciences, AbbVie Inc. and Novo Nordisk, to round out the top ten performers this year. 

The index is published by the Access to Medicines Foundation in the Netherlands, whose work is funded in part, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The foundation has been analyzing pharmaceutical company performance for the past 10 years, and plans to introduce a new Access to Vaccines Index in 2017.  The goal is to improve transparency and to see which companies are making product accessibility a strategic business goal.

According to the foundation, overall, there has been no progress in the proportion of products governed by pricing that takes into account the patient’s ability to pay.  On the positive side, the foundation finds that more pharmaceutical companies have at least developed strategies for increasing access to medicine, while many see making their products more accessible as a way to develop new footholds in developing, or what IMS economists have called the “pharmerging”  markets.

The top five ranking companies are said to match actions to externally defined priorites, the foundation says.  For instance, they invest in R&D for urgently needed products even when commercial incentives for those products may be lacking.  In addition, the foundation notes, their access strategies have clear business reasons and support commercial goals. 

Losing ground this year were Novo Nordisk and Bayer, while AstraZeneca joined the top ten, in part due to “notable pricing practices” and an expanded access strategy.  Takeda launched a new access strategy, rising from 20th place to 15th.  Roche, which did not provide data to the index, based on the fact that it specializes in oncology drugs, but the foundation used publicly available data to grade the company anyway, noting its strong compliance and regulatory enforcement programs, but criticizing its static approach to intellectual property management.  “The company does not commit to R&D for low- and mid-income countries,” the report found, and “its equitable pricing strategies apply only to a limited subset of its products.”

For one thing, pharmaceutical products are not registered equitably around the world, and, the foundation found, product registrations appeared to be weakest in areas that had the greatest need.  Of the 20 companies analyzed, 18 have filed to register some of their latest products in some low and middle income countries.  However, 78% of the top 20 companies’ 160 newset products are registered in less than half of the countries where conditions treated by those drugs are a priority. 


In addition, equitable pricing programs are only found for about one-third of the 850 products being sold for high-burden diseases. This year’s report noted progress in the development of treatments for antimicrobial resistance.

The report found that more than half of the companies analyzed are developing products other than medicines, including vaccines as well as diagnostics and vaccine development platform technologies.

To lead in making medicines accessible, the foundation found the following characteristics were shared by the top-ranking companies:

  • Clear R&D strategies tied to public health needs

  • R&D projects that target identified product gaps

  • R&D pipelines that include diverse product types and innovative and adaptive products

  • Products that move along the pipeline

  • Research supported by responsible clinical trials and practices

  • Policies and practices in place for sharing clinical data and intellectual property with other researchers.

To download the entire report, click here