Last year, GlaxoSmithKline chief Andrew Witty made a series of moves that made some pharma watchers ask, "What the heck?" Cutting prices in the developing world, contributing patents to a pool to help develop treatments for neglected diseases, promising a chunk of profits in developing nations would go to improving local conditions... was it all a PR stunt? A bid for attention? An attempt to make other drugmakers look bad? Or did Witty really mean it?
Well, we have to hand it to the man; he never pretended that cutting prices would cost Glaxo much. He acknowledged that the move would cost the drugmaker a few millions--but pointed out that Glaxo's pocket change could make a big difference in poor countries. And now that the patent pool has proven to be small incentive for developing those neglected treatments, he's unlocking the company's entire research library on malaria.
Plus, scientists from other companies will be welcomed into Glaxo's tropical diseases research lab, where all the books will be opened. No one does that, not in Big Pharma. And GSK's experimental malaria vaccine will be priced to deliver only a small profit, so that poor countries will have access to the shots. That small profit will then go to fund development of new drugs for tropical diseases.
And in what could be a much bigger deal, Witty now says his company is likely to allow other researchers access to its HIV-related patents; already it has licensed some on-patent meds to certain countries so that they can turn out cheap copies of the antivirals. But if the patents go into an HIV pool, the company would be addressing critics' core skepticism about its philanthropic intentions. What's your bet?
ALSO: GlaxoSmithKline forecasts sales growth of as much as 10 percent in the Asia-Pacific region this year, in line with the market and last year's 9 percent increase, spurred by expansion in emerging economies. Report