Improving health through openness
Improving health through openness
No matter where we live or what our income level is, we all share the same hope of a long and healthy life for ourselves, our children, family and friends.
Rapid medical advances have transformed millions of lives over recent decades. Antibiotics have made complex surgery and chemotherapy possible. Antiretroviral therapies mean HIV is now a long-term condition rather a death sentence. People are living with heart disease into old age. Vaccines have turned the tide against infectious diseases such as polio, tetanus and smallpox.
Ninety per cent of all the medicines and vaccines available in the world today are the result of research carried out by the pharmaceutical industry.
Yet despite all of the medical advances, much still needs to be done to develop treatments for diseases which affect the world’s poorest people, such as malaria, tuberculosis (TB) and the so called neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). There are seventeen NTDs which collectively affect 1.4 billion people in the world – causing disability, disfigurement and death.
The reality is these diseases don’t present a commercial opportunity, the science is complex and the scale of the problem is huge. Yet the human cost is real.
The pharmaceutical industry has a responsibility to help tackle this challenge. We need to get involved and make a difference, rather than find reasons not to act. We have resources and expertise that can help. Where the traditional business model does not work, we need to take a different approach – one that is focused on partnership, collaboration and openness.
Over the past four years GSK has been making fundamental changes to its business model to become more open to sharing our knowledge and expertise, and more willing to create new partnerships to help stimulate research into diseases which most affect the poor.
We call this our ‘open innovation’ strategy.
In 2009, we were the first company to give people free access to our intellectual property for NTDs. Today, seven other pharmaceutical companies are doing the same. Earlier this year, we joined other pharmaceutical companies, governments and organisations such as WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in pledging to control or eliminate ten of the 17 NTDs by 2020. This means working together to scale up donation programmes and encourage research into diseases where new or better treatments are needed.
We also screened our entire compound library – some 2 million compounds – and made publically available the 13,500 compounds which showed signs of activity against malaria. We are seeing signs that this is now encouraging interesting new research in this area.
We have now finished a similar screening exercise of our compound library for TB. We have identified 200 compounds with signs of activity against TB and we will publish the results in a scientific journal. Our hope is the release of these data will help to speed up the development of new treatments for this huge global health need where R&D is at an impasse.
We have also opened up access to our research centre at Tres Cantos, Spain, allowing independent researchers to access our facilities and expertise, to help them advance their own research into diseases of the developing world.
Today at this ‘Open Lab’, there are 16 research projects in the portfolio, while other organisations have asked us how they can participate. Our vision is that in the future Tres Cantos will belong to a consortium of partners rather than just to GSK.
We have doubled our investment in the Open Lab and will be providing an additional £5 million in funding.
Embracing ‘openness’ can also help address health challenges in the West. We are taking a similar data and knowledge sharing approach to spur research into antibiotics where emerging resistance means that new treatments are urgently needed but where the commercial incentives to develop new products are limited.
We are also working to be more open with access to our clinical trial data. We know it is incredibly valuable to the scientific community to learn about what research has and hasn’t worked. That’s why we already post summaries of all our clinical trial results, whether positive or negative, on our website for anyone to see. We have also committed to seek publication of all of our clinical studies in peer-reviewed journals. We were the first pharmaceutical company to do this.
Building on this, we are announcing today that we will put in place a system to enable researchers to access the detailed data that sit behind the clinical trials of our medicines - both those approved for use and those that we have been investigating but have discontinued. We hope that giving access to these detailed anonymised patient-level data will enable additional scientific inquiry and analyses to further scientific knowledge and bring benefit to patients. Clearly we have to be respectful of the confidentiality of patient data, and to be sure these data will be used for valid scientific endeavour, so we will have an infrastructure and way-of-working to address these.
As well as furthering scientific discovery, we hope this move will help reassure people that the pharmaceutical industry has nothing to hide.
These are real examples of where we have made fundamental changes to evolve our business, become more open and find new ways of working.
But there is more we can do, and we will be restless in adopting new ideas and approaches to meet the expectations of society – now and in the long term.