the personal views of a doctor in industry

Access to Medicines – Andrew Witty at GSK sets the pace

with 2 comments

In a speech at the Harvard Medical School last week, Andrew Witty, CEO of GSK, set out a bold new agenda for increasing access to medicines in poor countries (PharmaTimes, GSK lays out plans to seriously tackle disease in developing world). It was a triumph of substance over style in which GSK identified 4 key steps that it would be taking, and encouraged other firms to join it.

1) A more flexible approach to IP. A patent pool for medicines for neglected tropical diseases including both small molecule and process patents.

2) Pricing discounts for the poorest countries. GSK will charge no more than 25% of the full price as long as this covers cost of goods.

3) Greater collaboration. GSK already has a dedicated research centre set up in Spain and offered joint ownership to other institutions that want to join the 100 scientists already there.

4) Partnership in delivering solutions in the poorest countries. GSK commited to ploughing 20% of any profits made in these poor countries back into local health infrastructure projects.

The pooling of patents is a trick that has a history in industry: an article in Bloomberg (Glaxo’s WItty to Share Research to Aid Poor Nations) notes that industrial cooperation of this sort was used in 1917 to speed the manufacture of warplanes during WWI, but this will be a first for the pharma industry.

Understandably, some are finding this all too progressive to believe (PharmaGossip, Arise Sir Andrew Witty (or is it Saint Andrew?)). Some have noted that this bold plan will not necessarily cost GSK much money as it only made about $43 million in these countries last year (FiercePharma), but to be fair to GSK, Witty said as much: “We’re not putting enormous amounts of money on the table here,” he noted at Harvard.

Rarely does a pharma executive speak with such clarity of purpose, and rarely does a pharma executive accept that he does not have a commercial obligation to try to make money from the poorest countries directly. Bravo Mr Witty on both counts.


Written by Pillhead

February 19, 2009 at 2:11 pm

2 Responses

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  1. The ongoing journey of trying to get affordable medication to those who need it, is a saga that needs individuals with steady hands and a strong sense of public service to achieve.
    The idea of these patent pools is not new, as mentioned, read artcle: “New uses of patent pools” by Bart Showalter/ Trampas Kurth.
    One would summarise that the need was too great in 1917, therefore such novel ideas were a stroke of genius (sic! maybe desperation) However in today’s world where Wall street makes decisions, albeit disastrous ones!..Main street may not have much of a say.

    Therefore to find a CEO even talk about it with no apparent commercial agenda is a breath of fresh air!
    However the potential legal land mine that has to be carefully treaded will require a steady focus and the objective clearly set out!

    Ultimately when all is said (hopefully Wall Street does not have the last word!), we need to keep our Hippocrates Oath close to heart.


    March 2, 2009 at 5:00 am

  2. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/mostadmired/2009/top363/index.html

    I note that in Fortune magazine’s recent list of most admired companies, only Johnson & Johnson figures prominently from the life sciences space. Although, it could be argued that folks who vote for J & J are really interested in the baby shampoo and not their schizophrenia pipeline.

    Unfortunately, to be admired in the modern world as a company really results from consumer brand recognition and pharmaceutical companies are notoriously poor at building brand equity at the product and/ or company level.

    Nonetheless, at least Witty over at GSK gets the essence of this kind of PR communication better than most in that the message is very simple: we are going to make these drugs cheap and it will cost us around USD50 Mill. That’s quite easy to follow.

    Mandarin Cake Consumer

    March 3, 2009 at 6:10 am

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