Cancer Breakthroughs Are Set to Elude World's Poor, Study Says

(Bloomberg) -- Giant drugmakers pouring resources into new cancer medicines are largely ignoring people outside the world’s wealthiest countries, according to a survey.

Companies are working on availability for low- and middle-income countries for 4.7 percent of the experimental cancer therapies now in the final stages of patient trials, the Access to Medicine Index showed. By comparison, drugmakers had plans in the works for about 12 percent of products in development for other types of chronic disorders, and for more than half of potential new medicines for infectious diseases.

The results come amid a growing focus on making cancer medicines available for more than just the world’s wealthiest patients. The World Health Organization has added therapies such as Roche Holding AG’s Herceptin and Rituxan and Novartis AG’s Tasigna to its list of essential medicines. Countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa are working on increasing the availability of basic cancer treatment.

“We want that massive amount of effort that is being directed into cancer research and development at the moment to be better oriented toward the needs of low- and middle-income countries,” said Danny Edwards, research lead on the index. “It could be an opportunity missed if we don’t start thinking about it now.”

Companies have access initiatives in place for 54 percent of the cancer medicines on the WHO’s essential drugs list, according to the index. Novartis, which makes 21 of the 72 oncology medicines on the WHO list, had access programs for all but one of its essential drugs. Pfizer Inc., which makes 19 of the drugs on the list, had established access programs for just eight of them.

GlaxoSmithKline Plc led the overall index of drugmakers’ performance in poor countries for the sixth time in a row. Published every two years by the Access to Medicine Foundation in the Netherlands, the ranking scores the top 20 drugmakers based on their approach to making medicines available in developing countries.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.