GlaxoSmithKline has retained its top position among a global list of pharmaceutical companies striving to make their medicines, vaccines and diagnostics more accessible for people in low- and middle-income countries.

The 2018 Access to Medicine Index - which measures the performance of the top 20 pharma companies across seven different categories, such as access-to-medicine management, R&D and pricing - also saw Novartis move into second place, ahead of Johnson & Johnson and Merck KGaA, while Takeda jumped 10 places to take the fifth spot.

"We are pleased to have ranked first and improved our score in the Access to Medicine Index. We welcome the recognition for having the largest proportion of our R&D pipeline dedicated to priority diseases and for the creation of an integrated Global Health R&D unit to stimulate collaboration,” said Phil Thomson, president of Global Affairs at GSK.

He went on to stress: “We need a much stronger focus on collaboration both within our industry and across sectors, and we look forward to working with ATMi on addressing that. Further progress must be measured by the collective impact of business and other stakeholders working together, in addition to the performance of individual companies alone."

The Index also revealed that the four leading pharmas in this area, together with Sanofi (in 6thplace), account for 63% of the priority research and development (R&D) being undertaken.

“The fact that a handful of companies are carrying the bulk of the priority R&D load shows how fragile the situation is. A retreat by even one of these players would have a significant impact,” said Jayasree Iyer, executive director of the Access to Medicine Foundation. “If more companies joined this group, that would bring much needed resilience.”

The Index also found that the industry’s engagement in such R&D is focused on five diseases, with half of all such activity targeting malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, Chagas disease and leishmaniasis.

The analysis indicates that the majority of the priority R&D projects are being carried out with public sector research organisations, but some companies are developing priority products without such facilitation, such as Merck KGaA with its work on tests and treatment for schistosomiasis, the group noted.

“This is evidence that, when society agrees on the priorities, this clearly works in focusing the industry’s efforts,” said Danny Edwards, research lead for the Index.

“Our analysis found evidence of this not only in R&D but also in the actions companies take to make medicines accessible after they reach the market. In short, where there is a call to action or donor funding, more companies will get involved, particularly in areas with low commercial potential.”