GSK's vaccines access leads the pack, report says, as lagging Pfizer disputes findings

GlaxoSmithKline tops all vaccine companies in access work, a new report says.

For the first time, the public health watchdogs at the Access to Medicine Foundation have trained their microscopes specifically on vaccines and the companies that make them. Their findings? GlaxoSmithKline topped its Big Pharma vax rivals Sanofi, Pfizer and Merck & Co. in all three categories the group considered.

With a total of 48 marketed vaccines, GSK led in R&D, pricing and registration, and manufacturing and supply, according to the report. Access to Medicine Foundation included Sanofi, Pfizer, Merck, GSK, Johnson & Johnson and Serum Institute of India in its broad analysis, while also looking at R&D activity at Daiichi Sankyo and Takeda.

Pfizer performed at or near the back of the pack in each of the categories. On pricing, the New York pharma is alone in supporting “confidentiality provisions,” according to the report. Its R&D score was hurt by a “relatively small pipeline,” and for manufacturing, the company “makes no commitment to notify stakeholders in advance when reducing or ceasing supply of vaccines,” according to the authors.

A Pfizer spokesperson said the company questions the "methodology and findings contained in this report."

"While we support the stated goals of the Access to Medicines Foundation, we recently announced a major expansion of our humanitarian assistance program," she said, "and we were the first company to develop and launch a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in a preserved multidose vial presentation, specifically to address the infrastructure challenges of vaccinating children in developing countries."

Related: Pfizer pledges discounted Prevenar 13 in 'major' boost to humanitarian programs

Pfizer also pointed to its vax R&D work in C. diff, S. aureus and cytomegalovirus to dispute its rankings in that category of the access report.

Related: Pfizer talks up 'comprehensive' vaccines business

For its part, Sanofi performed “well across the board,” the foundation's report said. The French pharma “makes a general commitment to ensuring the prices of its vaccines are sustainable and equitable,” according to the authors.

Merck, Pfizer and Daichii Sankyo trailed their peers in R&D. Serum Institute of India trailed other players in pricing and registration; the authors called on that company to “develop and publish a pricing strategy for vaccines.”

To make their pricing decisions, all companies take into account whether a country is eligible for assistance from the global public-private partnership Gavi, the report found. But the authors noted that some middle-income countries don’t get Gavi support and still have a tough time paying for vaccination programs. They called on the companies to “systematically” address that.

Glaxo, Merck, Pfizer and Sanofi together make up 80% of the world’s vaccine sales. The group included Serum Institute of India in its analysis because of that company’s “global public health importance.” Around the world, Serum Institute markets 23 vaccines in 84 countries.

Sanofi recorded sales 96 countries included in the report, topping all competitors in that metric.

The report comes amid a significant vaccines push for GSK following its massive asset swap with Novartis. A separate industry analysis predicted the London-based company will climb the rankings in global vaccines sales to the No. 1 spot by 2022.

Related: Revved up by Novartis swap, GSK expected to top Sanofi, Pfizer and Merck in 2022 vax sales

Last November, an Access to Medicines analysis found GlaxoSmithKline at the front of the pack in overall pharma access work.

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