GlaxoSmithKline has topped a list of 20 of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies in terms of improving access to medicines and vaccines for people in developing countries.

In second place is Merck & Co, followed by Novartis, Gilead Sciences and Sanofi-Aventis, according to the Access to Medicines Index (AMI), published this week for the second time since its launch in 2008.

Six of the 10 highest-raking companies listed in the new Index are based in Europe and four in the USA - 2008’s list had ranked seven European and three US firms in the top 10.

The rankings show large differences between the world’s biggest drugmakers in terms of efforts to provide patients in low-income countries with affordable drugs and vaccines, according to the Index, which is produced by Dutch-based non-profit the Access to Medicines Foundation and backed by 22 institutional investors and fund managers. However, companies are now showing “far greater willingness to open up” about their policies on access than they were in 2008, said Wim Leereveld, the Index’s founder.

There have been great improvements, especially in the areas of R&D and equitable pricing but, at the same time, “the industry as a whole still has a long way to go,” he said.
The other 15 companies on the list, in descending order, are: Roche, AstraZeneca, Novo Nordisk, Johnson & Johnson, Abbott Laboratories, Pfizer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Eli Lilly, Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eisai, Merck KGaA, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Astellas Pharma and Daiichi Sankyo.

Compared to 2008’s Index, Gilead Science and Pfizer have moved strongly up the rankings this year, while Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck KGaA and Novo Nordisk are down.
The AMI also produces a separate ranking for generics companies, which this year is led by the Indian firms Ranbaxy and Cipla.
On June 28 in Geneva, the World Health Organisation (WHO) will hold a meeting at which the results of and methods used to generate the 2010 Index will be discussed.

- Meantime, earlier this month the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) delivered a formal statement to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on its members’ contributions to the UN's health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

From the inception of the MDGs in 2000 to their mid-point at the end of 2007, IFPMA member companies made available enough philanthropic assistance to reach 1.75 billion people in developing countries, providing treatments, training for health professionals and health education for populations at risk worth a total of $9.2 billion, the Assembly heard.

IFPMA director general Eduardo Pisani added that the only hope of achieving the health-related MDGs is through global partnerships, with contributions from countries of all levels of economic development and the active participation of governments, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), philanthropic groups and the private sector.

“The R&D-based pharmaceutical industry contributes to global health through its normal business activity of developing new medicines, but it also makes additional contributions to improving developing country health, through an extensive range of not-for-profit and philanthropic partnership programmes to improve access to health care, strengthen health care capacity and develop new medicines for diseases of the developing world,” he told the Assembly.