Big Pharma has improved access to meds since 2012 but marketing practices still a concern says AMF

By Gareth Macdonald contact

- Last updated on GMT

Big Pharma firms have improved access to meds in developing countries, but more to do
Big Pharma firms have improved access to meds in developing countries, but more to do

Related tags: Big pharma firms, Pharmacology, Drug, Gsk

Ongoing concerns about marketing practices have taken the shine of a report suggesting Big Pharma efforts have improved parients' access to drugs in developing countries over the past two years.

The Access to Medicine Foundation (AMF) – which ranks drugmakers’ efforts to make medicines more accessible on criteria like innovation, facilitating generics and ethics - said today​ that the industry is better at taking socioeconomics into consideration when setting prices than in 2012.

The analysts cited Merck & Co’s decision to offer patients in 11 Indian cities zero-interest loans to pay for its hepatitis drugs and Novo Nordisk’s efforts to tie diabetes diagnosis to treatment in community surgeries Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya as positive “access-oriented” steps.

Senior researcher Danny Edwards told in-Pharmatechnologist.com that: “Access to medicines also makes good business sense.  Much of the future growth in pharma sales is predicted to come from low and middle income countries, where most of the world’s poor live, shouldering the greatest disease burden.

By adopting access strategies such as tailored pricing with an emphasis on affordability, companies can reach more of these populations.  These kinds of approaches ultimately prove more sustainable than philanthropy or public relations.​”

Marketing ethics and patent disclosure (or lack thereof)

However, while some progress has been made, the AMF is still critical of two things: drug industry marketing practices; and Big Pharma firms’ willingness to disclose information about patents to the generics sector.

According to the report “18 [of the top 20 ranked companies] have been the subject of settlements or decisions relating to breaches in ethical marketing, bribery or corruption standards or competition laws.”

Ironically, given these comments, GSK is top ranked firm in terms of improving access to medicines despite admitting that some of its executives breached laws in China​.

However, as Edwards pointed out the GSK case fell outside the period under analysis.

The China case was serious, but was finalised outside of the period of analysis for the2014 Index, and thus will be addressed in the next edition.  GSK showed strong performance across most of the 7 areas of analysis.  It has strong governance of access to medicine, an innovative business model focused on Africa and high transparency around its access-to-medicine strategy.

The company also leads the Index in the area of Research & Development, with a large relevant portfolio, and a large share of its pipeline dedicated to relevant diseases​.”

Edwards added that: “Companies can, and many do, take a range of actions to mitigate the risk of unethical marketing occurring” citing auditing, tasking execs with oversight, taking legal action against employees who breach codes and creating an atmosphere of trust in which whistleblowers can come forward.

R&D assessment

The AMF also looked at drug industry R&D efforts with regards to medicines for developing countries and again the findings were mixed.

According to the report 327 drugs are now being developed, which is 47 more than in 2012.

However, the majority of these developing country-relevant drugs (54%) are being worked on by just five companies: Novartis; Johnson & Johnson; GSK; AbbVie and; Sanofi. The researchers also said the scope of disease targets is too limited.

More than half of these products target diabetes, lower respiratory tract infections, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS and malaria​” with diarrhoeal diseases, tuberculosis, COPD, meningitis and Chagas disease account for 71% of the pipeline.

Neglected diseases remain neglected according to the AMF, which said that just 13% of the 327 in development are for such conditions.

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