GlaxoSmithKline Chief Andrew Witty stayed true to his word to help the world’s impoverished nations, announcing on Wednesday a strategy to bolster malaria research by opening up the company’s libraries and pledging to price vaccines at an affordable rate.
“GSK is ready and willing to play its part in tackling global public health problems,” Witty said. “Whether we’re sharing our compound library or making the world’s first malaria vaccine accessible, our goal is the same—to find tailor-made solutions to specific problems.”
Witty announced that GSK is very close to fruition on a malaria vaccine, currently in trials in a number of African countries. The CEO hammered home the fact that the company could not charge the same price for the vaccine as it would any other treatment, as most of the people affected with malaria wouldn’t be able to afford it.
“Unlike virtually every other vaccine, there is no rich market for our potential malaria vaccine—tiered pricing simply doesn’t apply,” Witty told the audience.
Instead, the company will charge a price that will cover the cost for R&D and tack on 5 percent profit that will go right back into research for future vaccines. To date, $500 mullion has been invested in GSK’s malaria vaccine by both GSK and its partner, PATH MVI.
Last year, Witty promised to share resources in order to have a more open and transparent global research system. On Wednesday, he unveiled the program behind those words, sharing a plan to create an “Open Lab” based in Tres Cantos Campus, Spain, in which researchers from around the world can share ideas and develop drugs for diseases in impoverished nations.
Additionally, GSK will release 13,500 compounds to the public in an effort to spur development of treatments for malaria and other diseases. The company also announced that it has signed collaboration agreements with the Emory Institute for Drug Discovery and iThemba Pharmaceuticals to work on medicines to treat neglected tropical diseases and tuberculosis.
“Hopefully, GSK’s advancement of this model in regard to malaria is a harbinger of further flexibility from the entire pharmaceutical industry across all neglected disease areas,” said Mel Spigelman, president and CEO, TB Alliance, in an interview with Pharm Exec. “The extent to which the industry, as a whole, follows suit will be an important determinate of the ultimate, broad-based success of this initiative. We believe that successful and sustainable neglected disease drug development efforts will require the contributions of many organizations, both within and outside of the pharmaceutical industry.”
As part of its approach to open up IP, Witty said GSK would continue to promote voluntary licensing as a way to foster access to medicines without the delays encountered in negotiating a complex patent pool arrangement with governments and major multilateral institutions.
To date, GSK has inked eight voluntary licenses allowing local licensees broad range to develop and manufacture HIV medicines, including new combination formulations. These medicines are now serving the needs of patients in 44 low-income countries, and have created a platform where the licensees are collectively providing four times the amount of HIV medicines that GSK sells on its own.
“There is a pronounced leveraging effect in terms of access that we have fostered through judicious use of the voluntary licensing tool,” Witty told Pharm Exec.