GSK chief continues humanitarian crusade

If we had a chance to ask Andrew Witty (photo) one question, that question would be, "Are you for real?" We've watched as the GlaxoSmithKline CEO has cut off its funding for CME programs, promised to disclose its payments to doctors, limited its doc payments, donated 800 patents to an IP pool, promised to invest 20 percent of GSK profits into drugs for poor countries, and cut its prices for meds in the developing world.

And now, in a Guardian profile, Witty says he's encouraging Indian companies to knock off its on-patent meds for sale in poor countries, as long as they make quality products and asks GSK for a license, which it will give royalty-free. And he's calling on "every foreign company that makes profits in Uganda" to cut its prices there (and beyond; it's apparent that he means the developing world in general). "I don't just mean drug companies," he told the newspaper. "Everybody."

Witty readily admits that he's not losing much on his price cuts in the least-developed countries. Sales in Uganda, for instance, amount to less than $14.9 million, and profits less than half that. It's a mere drop in the $39.7 billion revenue bucket GSK carries. "It's the point of principle," he said. He even says there are things Glaxo could do to help combat the corruption and mismanagement that keeps drugs shipped to Africa from the village docs and clinics where they're needed. "We can't just sit back and say we developed a drug and for some reason which we're not going to spend the time to try and understand, nobody in Africa can get it," he told the paper. "I don't think that's an acceptable position to take."

Meanwhile, Witty has started a volunteering program within GSK, which allows about 100 employees at a time to work for an extended period for NGOs at home or abroad. ""[T]hey will come back with a broader view of the world, a more community view of the world, and I think that will change the culture of the company--for the good, actually." So, Andrew Witty. Are you for real? Or are you having us on, in a cynical attempt to polish GSK's image? We hope it's not the latter.

- read the Guardian profile