GSK ready to 'walk the talk' in outbreak preparedness with new R&D hub

GlaxoSmithKline opened its Rockville, Maryland, research facility on Tuesday.

Seeking to “walk the talk” with global biopreparedness efforts, GlaxoSmithKline cut the ribbon on its Rockville, Maryland, vaccine R&D facility on Tuesday, welcoming research partners to its antibody-shaped campus outside of Washington, DC.

The site will serve as a dedicated location for scientists to research potential deadly outbreaks as GSK continues to push the conversation about creating a global network with other organizations and governments. CEO Andrew Witty said that the site can hopefully be a “node on a network of nodes to create a much safer position for future threats” after Ebola and Zika caught the scientific community off guard in recent years.

But that’ll take buy-in from other stakeholders, something that has been tough to attain so far.

“Everybody we talked to loves it,” GSK chairman of vaccines Moncef Slaoui told an audience on Tuesday. “But we have been talking about it for two years and two months. It’s progressing very slowly because there are so many stakeholders involved. It’s a little frustrating I must say, but we will continue and will be persistent.”

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Witty said that in each recent outbreak, the global reaction has been "worse than the previous response.” The company is hoping to end that pattern with a move to "walk the talk" with a physical contribution to work in disease areas that might otherwise be neglected.

Apart from biopreparedness work, scientists at the site will conduct research in commercial vaccine areas such as the company’s shingles program and the future target of maternal vaccination. GSK will invest $50 million there over the next two years, according to a statement.

Rockville sits just outside of Washington, D.C., in close reach of partners at the FDA and NIH, which recently signed on with the company to work on Zika. Another bonus for the site is recruitment, as GSK didn’t have a vaccines R&D hub in the U.S. before the opening.

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“This is a great chance for GSK to really strengthen and develop, at the very fundamental, grassroots level, its true connection with the scientific culture and the best minds in the U.S.,” Witty said Tuesday. “The U.S. is the place to do it because it remains the most vibrant creative scientific country on the planet.”

The opening comes shortly after GSK renewed its support in global biopreparedness efforts this fall.

GSK dedicated Rockville the “Slaoui Center for Vaccines Research” in recognition of Slaoui’s career at the company. Representatives from Maryland attended the opening for a site that’ll create up to 200 local jobs.

Following the close of its Novartis asset swap, GSK continued to push in lower-margin businesses such as vaccines and consumer healthcare. That decision seems to have paid off this year, as vaccines posted 23% growth in the first quarter and outperformed other groups in the second and third quarters.