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GSK commits to improve global health

GSK CEO, Andrew Witty, has outlined a four-point agenda aimed at improving public health, scaling up the company's commitment to providing treatments to under-privileged people worldwide

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) CEO, Andrew Witty, has outlined a four-point agenda aimed at improving public health, scaling up the company's commitment to providing treatments to under-privileged people worldwide.

In his speech, Big Pharma a Catalyst for Change, at Harvard Business School, Witty set out the four elements of the initiative designed to scale up GSK's involvement in improving public health, including a patent pool, capped pricing, as well as greater partnerships in research and infrastructure for the poorest countries.

The first element is to develop a more flexible approach to intellectual property (IP) in the least developed countries. Witty said that although the primary objective of IP is to target and reward research, there are many tropical diseases that lack research. To help address this gap, he proposes a Least Developed Country (LDC) patent pool for medicines for neglected tropical diseases. Through this, GSK would put its relevant small molecule compounds or process patents for neglected tropical diseases into the pool, allowing other companies access to develop and produce new products. The pool would be voluntary to encourage others firms to participate and any benefits from it would go directly to LDCs.  

As part of the second stage, prices for patented medicines in LDCs will be reduced to a maximum of 25 per cent of those in the developed world, assuming costs of goods are covered. Where possible, prices will be even further reduced. In middle-income countries, prices will reflect a country's ability to pay. 

The third element outlined by Witty would see increased partnership between the public and private sector in medicines research. GSK is committed to research into Diseases of the Developing World (DDW), with a dedicated research centre in Tres Cantos, Spain. However, Witty believes such research is currently too fragmented. As a result, he will allow partners in to GSK facilities in order to help create a "truly world-class, global centre of excellence, not owned just by GSK, but by all of its partners whether they are governments, foundations or other companies".

His final commitment is to investigate how GSK can move from being a supplier of drugs to a partner in delivering solutions, for example, by forming partnerships to create suitable infrastructures to deliver healthcare. He plans to reinvest 20 per cent of the profit made from medicines sales in LDCs in infrastructure projects in these countries, to directly help the poorest people.

"We need to adopt a new mindset, one which is more innovative, open-minded, flexible and willing to take risks," he said. "We need to be a local company committed to addressing the specific healthcare needs of the country we operate in, building on our existing partnerships. An example of this is Brazil, where we are helping them build technical expertise so that in the long run they can produce vaccines themselves. We are setting ourselves the challenge of ensuring that we create partnerships in every country we operate in, whether that is with a local company, public sector organisation or academic institution."

Witty is throwing down the gauntlet for other big pharma companies to come on board, and has backed his vision with financial assurances.

16th February 2009

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