Big Pharma leading in access-to-medicine strategies, shows data

The 2022 Access to Medicine Index shows all 20 pharma companies have an over-arching access to medicine strategy, benefitting low and middle-income countries.

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A bi-yearly publication by the Access to Medicine Foundation, the 2022 Access to Medicine Index, ranks 20 of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical companies on their access-to-medicine strategies for low and middle-income countries (LMICs), noting all 20 companies report an access to medicine strategy for the first time. Six companies: Astellas, Boehringer Ingelheim, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novartis and Takeda, have access plans in place for all their late-stage R&D project for the first time.

To ensure people in LMICs have access to new and innovative medicines and vaccines as soon as possible after launch, companies need to have an access plan in place for products in the pipeline from at least Phase II of R&D. The research showed 83 percent of products in scope are covered by an access strategy.

The Index, endorsed by 134 investors, ranks companies on their efforts to improve access to medicine, best practices and highlights where progress is being made and uncovers where critical action is still required.

Bayer joined the top ten for the first time, with the broad geographic reach of its R&D plans highlighted as a best practice in the 2022 Index.

Six companies entered into new licensing agreements, three of them for the first time: AstraZeneca placed first in the area of Product Delivery by excelling in its approach to patent transparency and technology transfers. Eli Lilly and Novartis also entered into new licensing agreements.

The research suggested more companies need to engage in non-exclusive voluntary licences (NEVLs), covering a wider range of diseases and countries, earlier in products’ lifecycles and with access-oriented clauses. The Index noted companies are increasingly engaging in NEVLs, whereby multiple generic manufacturers are authorised by the patent holder (pharmaceutical company) to develop and manufacture low-cost generic versions of patented medicines, often in different countries. Novartis signed the first licence for a non-communicable disease (NCD) product, a leukaemia medicine.

Three more companies now engage in at least one voluntary licence. This makes their on-patent products available for generic manufacturing, increasing regional availability, supply and affordability of new and innovative medicines that would otherwise not reach people living in many LMICs.

2022 Access to Medicine Index findings

James Hazel, Research Programme Manager for the 2022 Index, Access to Medicine Foundation stated: “The 2022 Index finds that industry-wide improvement in planning for access and expanding access strategies still overlooks low-income countries. The Index found only 15 percent of access plans across the companies in scope include one of the 27 low-income countries. The 26 upper-middle income countries were seen as more likely to be considered in companies’ access plans for an R&D project.”

The Index stated more companies will need to invest in R&D across a wider scope of diseases and engage in access planning in tandem with developing products. Many people living in LMICs already face the threats of emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), with recent outbreaks of Ebola, Marburg virus and Lassa Fever illustrating the urgent need for vaccines and treatments.

Hazel added: “Companies must consider the depths of their plans, strength of their supply chains and equity of their pricing strategies to reach the most vulnerable populations.”