GSK, J&J earn top marks for boosting access to meds for poor

Here's some good news for Big Pharma's image: The latest Access to Medicine Index shows that major drugmakers are doing a better job of getting their products into the hands of patients in poor countries. Since the last report two years ago, some companies have clearly stepped up their game.

"[C]ompanies are becoming more organised internally in their approach to access to medicine. ... The leaders are really raising the bar," Wim Leereveld, founder of the index, said in a statement. "It's also clear that companies that do not continue to step up their efforts tend to be overtaken by their peers."

It's probably no surprise that GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) tops the ranking. Since CEO Andrew Witty took over, the company has rolled out "tiered pricing," setting bargain prices on key drugs in the poorest countries. Also, the company has increased its focus on neglected diseases, one aspect that the index measures. GSK has put hundreds of compounds with potential against malaria and tuberculosis into the public domain, for instance.

Making a big leap into second place is Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ); the company ranked ninth last year. Sanofi ($SNY) moved into third place from fifth, while Merck ($MRK) dropped to fourth and Gilead Sciences ($GILD) to fifth. The latter gets top grades for tiered pricing this time around, however; the big HIV player has cut prices in more countries than GSK has.

Of the top 10 on the list, 7 companies are based in Europe. The other three are U.S.-based. Japanese drugmakers are languishing mostly in last place, with Takeda Pharmaceutical, Daiichi Sankyo and Astellas Pharma rounding out the ranking. Eisai is the only Japanese drugmaker to beat out companies from other regions.

All is not rosy in access-land, of course. Even the leading companies can do more, the report says. A dozen pharmas now cut prices in poorer countries, but they're not always transparent about it. Only four companies actually showed that they exercise real discipline of and supervision over their contract researchers in the developing world. And no company is fully transparent about the CROs it uses, the report concluded.

- see the group's ranking
- read the Guardian story
- get more from Reuters