Access to health strategy

Across the globe, two billion people do not have access to medicines. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank have estimated that 400 million people lack access to effective and affordable health services, especially in low- to middle-income countries. However, according to WHO, these regions also bear approximately 90% of the world’s . In cooperation with strong partners, we’re working to tackle this complex challenge by researching innovative solutions, developing new approaches and improving existing programs to help people at the point of care. Moreover, we're striving to make health solutions affordable, raise awareness of diseases and teach people how to manage them.

Our approach to help improve healthcare

We seek to improve access to high-quality health solutions for underserved populations and communities in low- and middle-income countries, a goal that underlies our Access to Health (A2H) approach.

To achieve this aim, we're leveraging our expertise from all our business sectors. However, we’re aware that individual companies and organizations can only do so much to improve access to health, which is why we collaborate closely with a wide range of partners. To bolster the impact of our A2H efforts, we participate in industry-wide initiatives and work with other businesses to develop new approaches.

Our A2H strategy focuses on the following four areas:

  • Availability: We research, develop and refine health solutions that address unmet needs, tailoring them to local environments.
  • Affordability: We seek to provide assistance to those who are unable to pay for the health solutions they require, including addressing challenges surrounding pricing and intellectual property. Further information can be found under Prices of medicines and Community.
  • Awareness: We help raise awareness for diseases and therapies by empowering medical professionals, communities and patients to make informed decisions.
  • Accessibility: We promote initiatives that strengthen supply chains and develop localized health solutions. Medicines should reach the people who need them quickly and safely.

How we’re improving access to health

Our Access to Health unit investigates the factors that make it more difficult for underserved populations to receive healthcare, working with various partners to develop ways to reduce these barriers. Our A2H team is backed by a steering committee comprising representatives from our Healthcare and Life Science business sectors, along with representatives from our subsidiaries. The committee ensures that the programs developed support our business strategy and can be implemented locally in order to have the desired effect.

To support this objective, in 2015 we established the Open Innovation Committee, a body dedicated to overcoming access barriers in regions with major unmet needs. The committee helps to promote intellectual property as an enabler of innovation, allowing access to our knowledge and compound library to accelerate early discovery with leading partners in areas of high unmet need. For now, our efforts are focused on areas where we have no portfolio or competencies. The Open Innovation Committee is co-chaired by our the heads of our Access to Health and International Patents units.

Our commitment: Our Access to Health Charter

Sharing and protecting intellectual property

When it comes to access to health, pharmaceutical manufacturers’ approach to their intellectual property plays an important role. In most developing countries, we often do not file or enforce patents. In markets where we do register product patents, we are committed to sharing data with researchers and to improving public access to clinical study data. We report on the patent status of our products via publicly accessible databases. Furthermore, we support voluntary licensing agreements of all kinds, including non-exclusive voluntary licenses, legally binding non-assertion covenants, and clauses that aim to widen access to health. Moreover, we support the concept of , but believe that these should be structured to improve access to medicines and prevent anticompetitive effects as well as geographic limitations. We consider joining patent pools when they are relevant to our portfolio and meet all our efficacy, quality, and safety requirements.

The responsible treatment of intellectual property does not pose a barrier to health, but rather guarantees safety and high quality for patients worldwide. Nearly all medicines that address the highest burden of disease in developing countries are not protected by patents. For example, approximately 95% of the 2013 WHO Essential List of Medicines are off-patent. Through our initiatives and partnerships, we provide access to patent information and in some cases also access to parts of our compound libraries for efforts such as open innovation research projects.

Agreements and guidelines on intellectual property

A great deal of time and money is required to develop new drugs – without any guarantee of success. It can take ten to 15 years for an effective health solution to be market-ready. Pharmaceutical companies therefore need a solid, transparent and reliable legal framework to protect their intellectual property rights and enforce their patents, which provide a sufficient period of time and degree of protection to compensate for R&D costs.

We support , an international agreement administered by the World Trade Organization (WTO) that addresses trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, along with TRIPS addenda such as the 2001 Doha Declaration (Special Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health). The Doha Declaration extends the deadline for to apply TRIPS provisions to pharmaceutical patents until 2033.


medicines provided by us are listed on the WHO List and/or are classified as , such as bisoprolol/amlodipine, metformin (Glucophage®) and praziquantel.

New initiative improves access to patent information

We are a founding member of the Patent Information Initiative for Medicines (Pat-INFORMED), which was established in 2017 by 20 leading research-based biopharmaceutical companies. Pat-INFORMED will act as a global gateway to medicine patent information, offering new tools and resources to determine the existence of patents relevant to products sought by national and international drug procurement agencies. The transparency to be provided by Pat-INFORMED seeks to make it easier for drug procurement agencies to access a basic body of patent information necessary to implement disease management strategies, or other work addressing public health needs. The initiative is backed by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA).

Open innovation collaboration: WIPO Re:Search

We are one of more than 100 members of the WIPO Re:Search platform, whose goal is accelerating early discovery for infectious diseases as well as sharing members' knowledge and intellectual property. This platform is sponsored by the World Intellectual Property Foundation (WIPO). We initiated our first WIPO Re:Search partnership in 2015, joining forces with the University of Buea in Cameroon in a bid to use compounds from our library to develop a treatment for (river blindness). In 2017, we reached the final phase of the initial screening of a variety of compounds. Also in 2017, we entered into a partnership with the University of California, San Diego (USA) to share compounds from our compound library under the WIPO Re:Search open innovation umbrella. This is part of our joint effort to identify potential cures for leishmaniasis, Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis) and human African trypanosomiasis (HAT - sleeping sickness).

Open innovation collaboration: Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative

In April 2017, we formed a partnership with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) under which we’re participating in the Drug Discovery Booster project for . This project pursues an open innovation approach in which the various companies simultaneously search for new treatments for leishmaniasis and Chagas disease. We are joined in this project by five other companies (Eisai, Shionogi, Takeda, AstraZeneca, and Celgene).

Alliances for better access to health

We are a member of the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) initiative and have also endorsed the BSR Guiding Principles on Access to Healthcare, which provide a framework for us to refine and enhance our A2H efforts. In 2017, we collaborated within the BSR Healthcare Working Group to draft a new working paper on innovative financing models. Moreover, we drove the development of the BSR working paper entitled “Advancing Access to Healthcare Metrics“.

New initiatives for non-communicable diseases

At the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland in January 2017, we joined forces with 21 other leading pharmaceutical companies to launch Access Accelerated, a global initiative that seeks to improve both the treatment and prevention of non-communicable diseases in low- and middle-income countries.

Best practices recognized by the Access to Medicine Foundation

In 2017, a report published by the Access to Medicine Foundation provided the first comprehensive landscape of company activities illustrating how 16 pharmaceutical companies are improving access to cancer care in low- and middle-income countries. We were included in the study, which mentioned our access initiatives in this area, including our intellectual property approach and patient access programs for improving access to cancer medicines.

In 2016, we were ranked fourth in the Access to Medicine Index, which assesses the degree to which companies have improved access to medicines in developing nations. The foundation highlighted several of our initiatives as being best practices, including our endeavors to combat infectious diseases and counterfeit pharmaceuticals, strengthen transparency in the drug supply chain, and boost health awareness. They also recognized our efforts to align our access targets to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


Partnerships and dialogue are key instruments for improving access to health. Our partners include multilateral organizations, government agencies and NGOs, as well as academic institutions, health industry associations, companies, and experts from the private sector.

Our Access Dialogue Series

In 2017, our Access Dialogue event series put the spotlight on open innovation and intellectual property, as well as supply chain and delivery challenges in developing countries. We engaged our public and private stakeholders to discuss ways of eliminating access barriers to health. We initiated this event series in 2013 to provide a platform for public- and private-sector stakeholders to exchange information and share best practices on broadening access to health.

Discussions at a global level

In 2017, we participated in many other events, a selection of which are presented below:

  • Two workshops hosted in Amsterdam in June and September 2017 by the Access to Medicine Foundation.
  • “The Global Debate on Intellectual Property, Trade and Development: Past, Present and Future - A Conference in Honour of Pedro Roffe“, held in Geneva in June 2017.
  • “CAMP-N” (a coalition for access to medicines and products for non-communicable diseases) held on the eve of the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2017.
  • Panel session at the World Health Summit to discuss supply chains and improving access to health, held in Berlin in October 2017, co-hosted with Roche and Novartis.
  • Panel session on “Accelerating Innovation & Access to Vaccines” at the WIPO Global Challenges Seminar on Vaccines in Geneva in November 2017, including the launch of the new Global Challenges Report and the Access to Vaccines Index published by the Access to Medicine Foundation.
  • Belén Garijo, CEO Healthcare, represented our company at the fifth anniversary of the London Declaration to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases. You can find more information on the London Declaration under Infectious diseases.
  • Fourth Global Forum on Human Resources for Health under the banner of “Building the health workforce of the future”: Attended by over 1,000 delegates from around the world, it was the largest open conference on human resources for health-related issues.
  • You can find details on the Accessibility Platform dialogue series on local supply chain challenges under Supply chain.

Activities at the local level

In 2017 we also actively engaged stakeholders on a local level, examples of which include:

  • We continued our Unmasking Your Thyroid awareness and education campaign in the Philippines. You can find more information under Health awareness.
  • As part of our and Thyroid Care initiative, we partnered with the Mexican Society of Nutrition and Endocrinology to train 500 health workers in Mexico.

Employee events raise awareness

We seek to motivate and inspire our employees to actively engage in our access to health efforts. In this vein, in April 2017 the Access to Health team organized an event at which various internal and external experts presented our range of initiatives and efforts. Speakers included Peter Hotez from the National School of Tropical Medicine in Houston, Texas (USA), who discussed the topic of science and humanity, emphasizing how important it is to redouble efforts in neglected tropical disease drug discovery.

Disease burden
The impact of a health problem, often measured in terms of quality-adjusted life years or disability-adjusted life years, both of which quantify the number of years lost due to disease.
Patent pool
A consortium of at least two competing companies that allows partners to share the use of patents relating to a particular technology.
The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights is an international legal agreement between all the member nations of the World Trade Organization. TRIPS seeks to ensure that the measures and procedures for enforcing intellectual property rights do not become a barrier to lawful trade.
Least developed countries (LDC)
Countries that, according to the United Nations, exhibit the lowest indicators of socioeconomic development.
Essential medicines
Defined by the World Health Organization as “those drugs that satisfy the health care needs of the majority of the population”.
First-line treatment
A therapy regimen that is generally accepted by the medical establishment for the initial treatment of a given disease. If the first-line treatment is not adequately successful, a second-line treatment may be administered.
A chronic parasitic infection caused by nematodes that occurs in the tropical regions of Africa and South America. In approximately 10% of those infected, the disease leads to blindness, which is why onchocerciasis is also referred to as river blindness.
Neglected tropical disease (NTD)
Diseases that occur primarily in developing countries. NTDs include schistosomiasis, intestinal worms, trachoma, lymphatic filariasis, and onchocerciasis. This group of diseases is called neglected because, despite the large number of people affected, they have historically received less attention and research funding than other diseases.
People or organizations that have a legitimate interest in a company, entitling them to make justified demands. Stakeholders include people such as employees, business partners, neighbors in the vicinity of our sites, and shareholders.
A condition regarded as indicative that a person is at risk of progressing to Type 2 diabetes.

Sustainable Development Goals

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