Monday, February 16, 2009

Arise Sir Andrew Witty (or is it Saint Andrew?)

GlaxoSmithKline chief executive Andrew Witty has outlined ambitious proposals to help improve global public health through a different approach to intellectual property, pricing in poor countries and tackling diseases prevalent in developing areas.

In a speech titled “Big Pharma as a Catalyst for Change”, given at Harvard Medical School, Mr Witty said that “the task before us is huge”. He noted that Africa, for example, has 34 of the 50 poorest countries in the world “and suffers 24% of the global disease burden”. He added that “we need to scale up our existing commitments but that alone will not be enough”. Mr Witty claimed that “we need to develop new partnerships and new approaches. We need to adopt a new mindset, one which is more innovative, open-minded, flexible and willing to take risks”. In this regard, he laid out four commitments that GSK is giving.First up is “a more flexible approach to IP in the least developed countries”. Stating that “IP’s primary objective is to incentivise and reward research”, he noted that “there are plenty of neglected tropical disease where there is a severe lack of research. We need to see if we can use IP to help address that gap”.

Patent pool

Specifically, GSK is proposing a “Least Developed Country Patent Pool” for medicines for neglected tropical diseases”. Mr Witty said that “we would put our relevant small molecule compounds or process patents” into the pool, allowing others access to develop and produce new products. “Any benefits from the pool must go in full and solely to LDCs”, he stressed. Secondly, he stated that GSK will reduce its prices for patented drugs in the LDCs so that they will be no higher than 25% of the developed world “assuming we can cover our cost of goods”. In middle income countries, “we will also be more flexible”, Mr Witty said, “so that prices reflect more closely a country’s ability to pay”. Thirdly, the CEO called for greater collaboration in fighting diseases of the developing world. He cited the example of GSK’s dedicated research centre into DDW in Tres Cantos, Spain which employs 100 scientists funded in part by partners such as Medicines for Malaria Venture and the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development. However, globally, research into DDW “is still too fragmented…we need to have much greater critical mass and partnership between the public and private sectors” he said.

Mr Witty stated that “we are willing to open up, allowing partners in to our facilities if that helps create a truly world-class, global centre of excellence”. It would be owned, “not just by GSK, but by all of its partners whether they are governments, foundations or other companies,” he said. Fourthly, he said that “We need to stop saying ‘it’s not our fault there is no infrastructure to deliver healthcare’ and start saying ‘who can we work with to ensure that the infrastructure does exist’?” To do this, GSK will use 20% of the profit made in selling medicines in LDCs to reinvest in infrastructure projects in those countries. “We never want to be seen just as a ‘western’ company. We need to be a local company,” Mr Witty said.He gave the example of Brazil, “where we are helping them build technical expertise so that in the long run they can produce vaccines themselves”. Such partnerships “ will tie us much more closely to the country we operate in, giving us a stake in its economic and social development. That is how it should be”.

In conclusion, Mr Witty noted that GSK has been working with PATH’s Malaria Vaccine Initiative on a vaccine for over twenty years which is poised to go into Phase III trials. If it works, “we need to make sure nothing gets in the way of access, least of all price”, he said, adding that “we developed this vaccine in partnership; we need to deliver it in partnership”.

By Kevin Grogan

Insider's view: Judge him by his actions!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When Glaxo took over Wellcome (or rather, had it handed to them by the Wellcome "Trust", a misnomer if ever there was one), a company that had a long history in inevsting R&D effort in DDW, the first thing that went was that very programme - because Glaxo thought there wasn't any money in drugs for the poor.

Now Glaxo has just realised that perhaps it's possible to run a successful company by having a lot of "small" compounds each earning some of your money, rather than one or two blockbusters earning all of it - just the basis on which Wellcome used to operate.

Pity Glaxo simply preferred to pillage Wellcome's products, shut that company down and fire everyone there who knew how to work in an innovative, non-"blockbuster dependent" fashion.

Now it seems that Mr. Witty's "Big Idea" is to operate in the way little Wellcome used to. Ho hum...