American Drugmakers Improve Access In Developing World, But Lag Europeans

Partner content from Kaiser Health News

The Europeans have the Americans beat. But lucky for World Cup enthusiasts, it's not a soccer defeat.

European drugmakers outperformed American companies in making medicines available to poor people in developing countries, according to the second edition of an index that was released yesterday by the Dutch Access to Medicine Foundation.

But U.S. companies claimed four spots in the top 10 this year, up one more than when the index was first compiled in 2008. The index ranks 20 of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies and offers ways to compare their records on social responsibility.

In the current rankings, Britain's GlaxoSmithKline claimed the first spot on the list. Third place winner Novartis of Switzerland, was one of six European drug makers that made the top 10 on the 2010 index.

Merck & Co., headquartered are in Whitehouse Station, N.J., moved up from the third slot to come in second on the new index. The company's lab for developing low-cost vaccines, launched with the Wellcome Trust in 2009, is one of the efforts that helped make it the top American contender.

Two U.S. companies' ratings rose significantly compared with the 2008 index – Gilead Sciences, which went up from 15 to four – and Pfizer, which came in at 11 from its previous ranking of 17. One U.S. company had a noticeable drop: Bristol Myers-Squibb, which slipped from 11 to 15 in part because the company stopped its involvement in malaria vaccine research with the Medicines for Malaria Venture.

Wim Leereveld, the chair and founder of the foundation, said the new rankings show that some companies have displayed "far greater willingness to open up" about marketing, lobbying practices and business collaborations. "The index unveils great improvements, especially in the areas of research and development, and equitable pricing. At the same time, it shows that the industry as a whole still has a long way to go," he said.

Harvard Medical School associate professor Dennis Ross-Degnan, says Wall Street has several rankings for companies related to social responsibility, including access to medicines, but this index is a "first for the global health policy community."

The index is a good way to see which companies are doing well in terms of promoting access to medicines and what they're doing, and the rankings are compiled in the "least subjective way possible," says Ross-Degnan, who was not involved in compiling the index. But he says he'd like to see indicators about "what [companies] do to guarantee that medicines are not misused."

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