Diseases of the developing world

Every year millions of people in the world’s poorest countries die from infectious diseases or suffer ill health because they do not have access to basic healthcare services, essential medicines, or vaccines.

We are committed to changing this. But to do so will take more than just innovative scientific thinking. We recognise that to achieve sustainable improvements in access to essential care and medicines in the developing world, we need to have a dedicated strategy devoted to it.

Our approach is structured around five strategic aims:

Directing our R&D activities to reflect the needs of developing countries

As part of our response to the challenges faced in the developing world, in 2001 we established our research centre at Tres Cantos in Madrid to work exclusively on tackling diseases of the developing world.  The unit focuses primarily on malaria and tuberculosis, along with certain neglected tropical diseases. Research decisions at Tres Cantos are prioritised on their socio-economic and public health benefits, rather than on commercial returns.

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Being more open with our relevant data and research

In our work on the treatment and prevention of malaria, tuberculosis and kinetoplastid infections (African sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and Leishmaniasis), we have used the web to share the data from our investigations into potential new treatments. We’ve screened our entire library of more than two million compounds and shared information on those that show signs of activity.

Malaria research

In May 2010, the first success in opening up access to our compounds was realised, with the publication of over 13,500 promising potential ‘hits’ in the journal Nature to stimulate drug discovery research for malaria. The chemical structures and associated assay data of these compounds are now stored on leading public scientific websites including the European Bioinformatics Institute, the National Library of Medicine and Collaborative Drug Discovery.

This open approach has seen us share our anti-malarial data with 14 research institutions around the world, resulting in a number of new research projects. A pre-requisite for granting access to the data is that the researchers agree to put their findings in to the public domain, thus encouraging further collaborative research by the scientific community on this challenging disease.

The group Medicines for Malaria Ventures (MMV), which partly funded our initial malaria screening, has also been instrumental in coordinating this open source approach. MMV have created a ‘malaria box set’ made up of the compounds donated by us, and other research groups including St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and Novartis. The malaria box has been sent to more than 100 groups around the world.

Several labs are also involved in an exciting new open source drug discovery projectfor malaria - the first of its kind - using a new idea called ‘Open Notebook Science’. This involves publishing the notebook of the researcher online, along with all the raw and processed data and any associated material, as it is recorded. Led by the Todd lab at the University of Sydney with MMV and GSK’s Tres Cantos facility, this new practice hopes to speed up the collaboration process.

Tuberculosis (TB) research

In October 2012 we announced we were adopting the same open approach to TB research, by putting around 200 TB “hits” into the public domain. In the same way that we previously opened up access to our malaria data, we will make these TB data freely available to the public online and will also seek publication of this information in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. We hope the release of these data will encourage a fully open approach to TB research, which we believe is the key to accelerating the development of new medicines to treat this disease.

Kinetoplastids research

Kinetoplastids infect an estimated 20 million people in the developing world, resulting in approximately 95,000 deaths a year. Yet despite the enormous suffering they cause, these diseases have historically received a limited amount of attention and effective treatments are lacking. To stimulate research in this area, between 2012 and 2014 we carried out a similar screening exercise for kinetoplastid infections as we had previously done for malaria and tuberculosis. In March 2015 the results of this process were published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal and we have made the c 600 “hits” identified during the screening available to researchers, to encourage further research in this field.  

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Partnering with other organisations who share our values

In 2010, we stated our intention to open up the Tres Cantos campus to allow GSK researchers to work more collaboratively with scientists from universities, not-for-profit partnerships and other research institutes.

When forming research partnerships, we look for organisations whose principles are aligned with our own. Working in partnership enables us to share our specialist knowledge, as well as the financial cost of our work together.

One of our longest standing relationships is with the Geneva based Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV). MMV is focused on managing and ultimately eradicating malaria, which kills up to two million people a year. The majority of victims are children under five or pregnant women living in tropical countries with poor economies. 

Another of our partners is the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development.  Tuberculosis is second only to HIV in terms of the number of annual deaths it causes, with one person somewhere around the world dying of it every 20 seconds. The World Health Organisation estimates that two billion people are carrying the bacteria at any time.

By opening our Tres Cantos research facility to more alliances, and by continuing to drive our “open innovation” agenda, we aim to provide a critical mass of knowledge around neglected diseases. We hope this knowledge will lead to the discovery and development of desperately-needed new medicines, creating a truly world-leading facility in collaborative research.

The Tres Cantos Open Lab Foundation

In 2010, we stated our intention to open up the Tres Cantos campus to allow GSK researchers to work more collaboratively with scientists from universities, not-for-profit partnerships and other research institutes.

To support external scientists coming into the campus, we donated £5 million in January 2010 to set up an independent charity, the Tres Cantos Open Lab Foundation. In 2012 we doubled this funding to a total of £10m and it is hoped that with this, and other donations, a sustainable flow of around ten early-stage drug discovery projects will be maintained at the open lab in the coming years. 

All projects supported by the Open Lab Foundation must contribute to research that helps discover new medicines for diseases of the developing world. In this way we are seeking to address the funding issues that have long prevented significant attention being given to diseases particularly common in the least developed countries.

Since the ‘Open Lab’ was established in [year], 21 scientists from world-class institutions have come to work on 14 projects in the Open Lab, and eight further projects have been approved. One of the projects completed at the Open Lab was conducted by iThemba, a company supported by the South African Government, to identify potential new compounds against TB, specifically multidrug and extremely drug-resistant TB, and co-infection with HIV-AIDS.

The Open Lab’s vision is to have around ten projects at Tres Cantos at any given time. The majority of these will be funded by the Tres Cantos Open Lab Foundation.

Find out more about current projects at Tres Cantos

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Pursuing flexible pricing strategies

We have introduced flexible pricing to ensure our medicines and vaccines reach as many people who need them as possible. For example, we have agreed that the price of our patented medicines in poorest countries will never be more than 25% of what we charge in developed countries. The Access to Medicines Foundation has ranked GSK No.1 in its global Access to Medicines Index, which has been running since 2008.

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Rethinking how we recoup our investment in particular treatments

A development such as our malaria vaccine candidate RTS,S - which is currently undergoing regulatory review - would have no market in developed countries to offset its R&D costs. If it proves successful it will bring tremendous health benefit, but only in tropical countries where economies are not strong. We have therefore committed to achieving only a small return on this product - about about 5%. This will be fully reinvested in the development of next generation malaria vaccines or other treatments for diseases of the developing world.

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WIPO Re:Search

As part of our commitment to fight global health challenges, we were a founding member of WIPO Re:Search, a new open innovation platform which aims to help accelerate the development of new and better treatments against neglected tropical diseases such as dengue, rabies and Chagas disease, as well as malaria and tuberculosis.

WIPO Re:Search is a collaboration of private and public sector organisations sponsored by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in collaboration with BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH).

This collaboration builds on the Pool for Open Innovation against Neglected Tropical Diseases, which was established in February 2009 with patents from GSK and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals. This intellectual property (IP) pool was the first effort to ensure IP did not act as a barrier to research for neglected tropical diseases.

For further information go to the WIPO Re:Search website.

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How we tackle diseases in developing countries

Find out more about how we tackle diseases in developing countries

Tackling diseases in developing countries