Andrew Witty, CEO of UK’s GlaxoSmithKline said recently on a conference call that his company will publish chemical structures of 13,500 compounds that are seen to be active against the key parasite that causes malaria and all related knowledge about them on public websites for scientists. GSK has a 2 million-strong library of compounds – essentially building blocks of new medicine - and screened the entire lot against the parasite before narrowing them down to those that showed activity. “That does not mean that they will be a drug, but it means they could be the beginnings of a drug,” he warned, however. Scientists will be free to build on this know-how without fearing litigation from GSK.
This is the first concrete step after the company’s commitment last year to create a patent pool to address 16 neglected tropical diseases predominantly in least developed countries (LDCs). GSK will also create an ‘open lab’ within its research facility in Tres Cantos, Spain where up to 60 outside scientists can use GSK’s facilities to do research in malaria and avail of an $8mn seed fund that it will set up. Witty also committed that it will price a new malaria vaccine that is still two years away from the market such as to make it affordable for all those who need it and invest the ”very, very small return” back into malaria research.
What’s equally interesting are Witty’s comments on his approach for middle-income countries that are more prosperous than LDCs yet have large numbers of people who are poor and cannot afford medicine. Here I quote verbatim :
“What I think is different is when you look at the poorest 50 countries in the world, you can put together an approach which works for most of the 50. Once you start to look at the middle income countries, (they) are themselves very different individually, one from the next, so I have asked all my managers who run our businesses in the middle income countries to start to work with their government partners on what we can do to improve what we do in that country. .. It is important that, for example, in India, we have a strategy which works in India and it is important in Brazil that we have a strategy that works in Brazil, but they may not be the same strategies. Therefore, it is very important that we take a customised approach, which is exactly what we are doing.
What you will see at GSK is that, for example, we are building our portfolio of medicines so that we can offer medicines at lower prices. In some countries, we have reduced the price of our medicines where we felt that they were not appropriate to the income level of society. We are very keen to work with governments as they expand healthcare. For example, as governments build healthcare infrastructure into the rural areas of many countries, we are working with them to see how we might help them and how we might ensure that our medicines are able to work within that context. However, each of those conversations needs to be individual with the government, so there should be an Indian dialogue, there should be a Brazilian dialogue. It is not easy to create a one-size-fits-all solution for countries that are so remarkably different. If there is one thing I have learned in my career, having worked in many of these countries including India, China, Africa and elsewhere, they are so different that it would be wrong to try to force fit one solution for each of them.
Therefore, for me that is really our strategy guided by the principle of making sure that our medicines are relevant to society and, where they are relevant, that we do everything we can to get them distributed. ”
Time for India to see some action from GSK.