GSK tops pharma in access work, report says; J&J, Novartis round out top 3

GSK HQ

Drugmakers are doing a little better at getting new drugs to poor countries, but affordability continues to be a problem, the new Access to Medicine Index has found. GlaxoSmithKline led its Big Pharma peers in the rankings for the fifth consecutive time, with Johnson & Johnson and Novartis rounding out the top three.

While some pharmas jumped in the 2016 index, companies including Roche and Novo Nordisk fell in the access rankings.

GSK has a “clear access-to-medicine strategy that aligns with its corporate strategy, and company-wide ownership and accountability for access,” the authors wrote in the report released Monday. In the categories of pricing, R&D and donations, GSK topped the industry.

But GSK’s compliance score lags some competitors. A China bribery scandal that rocked the company back in 2014. In response, the company eliminated individual targets for salespeople to avoid future trouble.

CEO Andrew Witty said in a statement the ranking “is testament to everyone at GSK, and our partners, who strive every day to research, develop and deliver innovative medicines and vaccines.”

The ranking comes shortly after GSK was named one of “50 companies in 2016 to Change the World," according to Fortune. The company in September lowered the price of its pneumococcal vaccine Synflorix for humanitarian emergencies.

Behind GSK in the top five are Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, Merck KGaA and Merck. The report measured 83 metrics in 107 countries.

Novo Nordisk took the biggest decline since 2014’s rankings, falling from second to tenth place. On access, the company “has a small relevant pipeline, and engages little in collaborative R&D,” the authors wrote. Plus, Novo’s “equitable pricing strategies only cover human insulin products, representing 27% of its portfolio for diseases in scope,” according to the report. The company’s donation program, as well, “is limited in geographic and population scope.”

Hurt by a low transparency score, Roche fell seven spots to No. 19. But the Swiss pharma progressed elsewhere with “new access initiatives and strong processes for ensuring compliance,” the authors said. The company said in a statement it was "disappointed" with the Index's decision not to include cancer in the analysis, where it's very active.

According to the Access to Medicine Foundation Executive Director Jayasree Iyer, the report paints a picture of an industry with many players “committed to fulfilling” an important social contract with patients. “But progress is slower than many of us would like,” she wrote, with two billion patients around the world still unable to access needed medicines.

The report claims that the industry hasn’t advanced in affordability since the last index, and that “more can be done” by companies to launch new products faster in developing countries.