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GSK To Offer Scientists Access To Compounds, Lab Space To Fight Malaria

Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)’s Chief Executive Officer Andrew Witty on Tuesday unveiled the company’s plans to allow “free access to its library of 13,500 potential malaria treatments and devote the profits from its experimental [RTS,S] vaccine to battling tropical illnesses that beset poor countries,” Bloomberg reports (Randall, 1/20).

“Glaxo will let other scientists try to develop malaria drugs – free from royalties or other payments to Glaxo – from that library of compounds,” the Associated Press/ABC News reports. “They were winnowed down from more than 2 million screened by hand against potentially dangerous blood samples containing the malaria parasite by five Glaxo scientists who devoted a year to the project, a rare effort for free in an industry focused on profits,” the news service writes (Johnson, 1/20).

“By sharing the data, the research community can start to build up a public repository of knowledge that should be as powerful as the human genome databases and could set a new trend to revolutionise the urgent search for new medicines to tackle malaria,” said Timothy Wells, chief scientific officer of the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), which has worked with GSK on the project, the BBC writes (1/20).

“The move marks the first large-scale public release of such structures by a pharmaceutical company, and it could lead to others following suite,” Nature writes in a article that examines the concept of GSK’s “‘open innovation’ strategy,” outlined by Witty on Wednesday, during a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The iniative “marks the latest development in a trend towards greater access to industry compound libraries – access that was unheard of just a few years ago,” the journal writes. “Over the past decade, new public-private partnerships such as the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development and the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) have forged deals with drug firms to give them privileged access to the companies’ compound libraries” (Butler, 1/20).

Witty also said Tuesday that GSK hopes to seek approval of its RTS,S vaccine by 2012, adding that the company will seek to ensure the price is affordable for poor countries, but “will likely derive a ‘small five percent return’ on the vaccine, … enough to help encourage other drugmakers to continue their own research against diseases that remain big killers in least developed countries,” Reuters writes. The company is scheduled to complete late-stage trials of the vaccine in 2011 (Pierson/Kelland, 1/20). A GSK press release states that the profit on RTS,S “will be fully reinvested into research and development for second-generation malaria vaccines, or vaccines for other neglected tropical diseases” (1/20).     

Additionally, Witty said that GSK will open the doors to its labs in Tres Cantos, Spain, to researchers outside of the company for them for use in the study of treatments for other tropical diseases, the Telegraph reports. “The ‘Open Lab’ will have space for 60 scientists,” the newspaper writes (Ruddick, 1/20).

“As part of the Open Lab project, Glaxo will start a foundation to fund research and idea sharing, kicking in $8 million initially,” AP/ABC News writes. “It will also expand its existing patent pool of data on various neglected diseases, bringing in a new partner, the Emory Institute for Drug Discovery, and turning control over to a nonprofit health group focused on developing biotech medicines, BIO Ventures for Global Health. Finally, Glaxo will collaborate with a South African firm, iThemba Pharmaceuticals, on developing drugs to treat tuberculosis,” according to the news service (1/20).

“Witty’s speech takes forward the agenda he set out nearly a year ago at Harvard University, when he pledged to put all the potential drugs for neglected diseases GSK holds in a ‘patent pool’, waiving the company’s intellectual property rights so that any scientists could investigate them,” the Guardian writes. “He also promised to cut the price of all GSK drugs in the world’s poorest countries and to reinvest 20% of all profits it made there in projects to help local people.” The article also includes comments from Medecins Sans Frontieres Director Tido von Schoen-Angerer. Though von Schoen-Angerer commended the company on the project, he addressed a need for similar projects to target additional diseases. The newspaper notes, “Oxfam, Medecins sans Frontieres and other NGOs are still very critical of GSK’s reluctance to wholeheartedly embrace a patent pool for HIV drugs that is being set up by UNITAID” (Boseley, 1/20).

“‘We want to be part of constructive engagement,’ [Witty] said, referring to a possible HIV-drug patent pool,” Reuters writes. “In the meantime, he said Glaxo had already granted eight voluntary licences in Africa that allow others to produce generic forms of the company’s HIV treatments without paying royalties to the London-based drugmaker” (1/20).