Sanofi Launches Nonprofit Pharmaceuticals Line with Insulin and Cancer Treatments for Low-Income Countries
Pharmaceuticals, Diabetes
An exhibition marks the discovery of insulin, a life-saving treatment for diabetes, at the University of Toronto in 1921

French drugmaker Sanofi is the latest pharmaceuticals manufacturer to offer a package of essential medicines at cost to health systems in the world’s most impoverished countries – including much-needed cancer and diabetes treatments.

Sanofi on Monday announced the launch of the new nonprofit Impact® brand for dozens of medicines, that is supposed to ease support medicines procurement in 40 low-income countries. 

The new brand will enable the secure distribution of 30 Sanofi medicines, including glibenclamide and insulin for diabetes and oxaliplatin for chemotherapy, France’s largest drug company said in a statement.

The prevalence of diabetes has nearly doubled over the past three decades, with rates soaring in low- and middle-income countries beset by an epidemic of obesity related to higher processed foods and junk food cosumption and less physical activity. But high prices have limited people’s access to essential diabetes treatments, with a market dominated by three firms worldwide- including Sanofi.

Only about 50% of the estimated 100 million people requiring insulin worldwide are able to access treatment, according to a 2017 study led by Health Action International.  Human insulin, traditionally the least costly insulin treatment, is also gradually replaced in markets by longer-acting and often higher-priced “insulin analogues” – which can make treatment even harder to access  in low- and middle income countries and even in some high-income settings. 

Making essential medicines affordable for diabetes, cancer, malaria, tuberculosis and other areas

All of the medicines to be distributed by Sanofi Global Health, a nonprofit unit within the company, are on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines that is updated in consultation with experts worldwide every two years.

The list covers a wide range of therapeutic areas, including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, malaria, and tuberculosis, as well Hepatitis C and common bacterial infections.

Last year’s Model Lists of Essential Medicines (EML) from WHO – which provides a baseline of guidance to national health authorities on products and services that should be made the most widely available – included for the first time ever, long-lasting insulin analogues, also produced by Sanofi.

Previously, the EML expert committee had rejected their inclusion on the basis of fears that broader reliance on the higher-priced analogue formulations could restrict access to lower-cost human insulin products.

However, in view of increasing availability, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the inclusion of insulin analogues is a step in the right direction towards affordable access to a lifesaving treatment.

The inclusion of four new cancer medicines also was a priority for the updated EML. Additional childhood cancer indicators were also added for 16 medicines already listed, including low-grade glioma, the most common form of brain cancer in children.

Underserved populations, startups and innovators

The launch of the Impact® brand is among the steps taken by Paris-based Sanofi since forming Sanofi Global Health last year to increase healthcare access by distributing medicines and to improve local healthcare systems among some of the poorest nations.  It has also launched a $25 million Impact Fund to support healthcare startups and other innovators to deliver “scalable solutions for sustainable healthcare in underserved regions,” according to the company.

“Sanofi Global Health aims to improve the lives of millions of people who now cannot get the help they need,” Sanofi’s CEO Paul Hudson said. 

Added Jon Fairest, who heads the Global Health Unit: “But we know that we cannot do this alone, and so we are building partnerships at global, regional and local levels that will help to improve and establish health systems to reach our goal of a healthier, more resilient world,” 

Towards a tiered pricing approach for pharmaceuticals

Sanofi’s moves follow on a other announcements by a number of leading drug companies expanding their use of “tiered pricing” to include drugs for common NCD treatments, including Pfizer, the world’s top pharma revenue earner, which is making billions from its COVID-19 vaccine.

The company announced last month at the World Economic Forum that it will begin selling 23 of its patented medicines and vaccines marketed in the United States and European Union on a non-profit basis to 45 of the world’s low-income countries.

The medicines and vaccines in Pfizer’s “Accord for a Healthier World” project include treatments for infectious and rare inflammatory diseases, and some cancers.

Thomas Cueni, director general of International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), said tiered pricing can help improve access to vital treatments, although it is not enough on its own. 

“This works on the basis that lowest-income countries have a pricing that reflects their reduced ability to pay, just as richer countries will pay more,” Cueni told Health Policy Watch.

“However, pricing needs to be understood in the broader context of access to treatments,” he said. “It also requires having in place the health systems to diagnose; the healthcare workers to treat patients; and mark up of medicine prices throughout the supply chain by medicine wholesalers.”

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