June 16, 2008 / 2:14 PM / 12 years ago

European firms beat U.S. on drug access for poor

LONDON (Reuters) - European drugmakers are better than their U.S. counterparts in ensuring medicines reach people in poor countries, with Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline Plc leading the field, according to an analysis on Monday.

The ranking — the first of its kind — was produced by the Netherlands-based Access to Medicine Foundation and is backed by 12 fund managers, who together manage $1.2 trillion in assets.

The ranking is based on eight main criteria, including companies’ policies on increasing access, patenting, research into neglected diseases and the use of fair pricing systems.

The analysis found big differences between the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies in their efforts to provide millions of people in low-income countries with affordable drugs and vaccines.

Denmark’s Novo Nordisk, a specialist in diabetes care, ranked second in the index with Merck & Co Inc placed third — the only U.S. company among the top seven.

Pfizer Inc, the world’s largest drugmaker, came in 17th out of a field of 20, behind Indian generic firms Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd and Cipla Ltd.

There were no Japanese drug companies on the list.

“TRANSATLANTIC DIVIDE”

Publication of the index gives investors a new tool to assess companies’ social responsibility and may prompt laggards into action, according to foundation head Wim Leereveld, who believes the gap between European and U.S. companies is largely cultural.

“Europe is closer to Africa and has deeper relations with Africa. But it is also clear from issues like carbon emissions and climate change that there is something of a transatlantic divide on corporate social responsibility issues,” he told Reuters.

Long-term investors are concerned drugmakers could suffer damage to their reputations and, ultimately, restrictions on the way they operate if they fail to address the issue of ensuring access to medicines in the poorest parts of the world.

“For investors, how the pharmaceutical industry responds to the access to medicine issue could impact materially on long-term shareholder value,” the group of fund managers supporting the index initiative said in a statement.

“There is, therefore, a need for tools which help investors and analysts assess the long-term investment value of such companies.”

Fund managers supporting the foundation’s work include AMP, F&C, Morley, Sarasin, Henderson and Schroders.

The full ranking is as follows:

1 GlaxoSmithKline PLC

2 Novo Nordisk A/S

3 Merck & Company Inc

4 Novartis AG

5 Sanofi-Aventis

6 AstraZenica PLC

7 Roche Holdings Limited

8 Johnson & Johnson

9 Bayer Schering Pharma AG

10 Eli Lilly & Company

11 Bristol-Myers Squibb Comp

12 Abbott Laboratories Ltd

13 Merck Kgaa AG

14 Cipla Limited

15 Gilead Sciences Inc

16 Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd

17 Pfizer Inc

18 Wyeth

19 Teva Pharmaceutical Ind. Ltd

20 Schering-Plough Corp

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