Our vaccines strategy
Our vaccines strategy
A Q&A with Christophe Weber, President and General Manager of GSK Vaccines
For over 20 years we have made our entire vaccine portfolio available for expanded immunisation programmes at preferential prices. Here Christophe Weber explains the thinking behind this strategy.
According to one of the statistics you quote, nearly 80 per cent of the vaccines you manufacture go to the developing world. How does this make business sense?
The majority of our vaccines are indeed used in developing countries - where the burden of diesease is highest - so it is critical that our approach is sustainable. We’ve been refining our business model for more than 20 years, working with organisations such as GAVI Alliance and UNICEF.
These groups have helped to create a market for vaccines in the least developed countries, giving companies like ours the assurance to make the investment needed in manufacturing, and to maintain quality standards. I want to stress, that prices - even for the GAVI eligible countries - cannot be below our cost of production if we are going to be sustainable.
Why is this particular group of countries so important to you?
It is not just these countries. Using our resources, knowledge and expertise to enable greater access to vaccines – regardless of where people live - is at the heart of our business.
The reason is simple. Good health is vital - it enables people to live life to its fullest, allowing them and their communities to prosper. And with the exception of clean drinking water, no intervention has rivalled vaccination in its ability to save lives.
How do you make this approach sustainable?
The challenge was finding a business model that accomplished two goals. First, the model would have to facilitate broad access to vaccines in the countries that could afford to pay the least but where the burden of illness is often the highest. Second, a successful model would have to enable us to remain a profitable business, ensuring a continued supply of existing vaccines and maintaining our investments in research and development for new products.
The model which helps us achieve this, and which we began using in the early 1990s, is tiered pricing. Simply put, this means countries pay different prices based on their differing income levels rather than a single flat rate. In our tiered system, the higher prices for industrialised and middle-income countries allow us to recoup and maintain our R&D investments while charging a much lower price in developing countries.
The lowest prices are reserved for agencies such as GAVI and UNICEF. Partnering with these agencies means we can reach more children, and this means higher volumes.
So the commitment to the developing world extends to R&D?
Yes, it extends throughout our organisation. We’re investing in research into vaccines for all three of the WHO priority diseases – malaria, TB, HIV – as well as other diseases such as dengue fever which is a leading cause of serious illness and death among children in some Asian and Latin American countries.
We’ve been working for almost 30 years to develop a vaccine against malaria. It is not easy.
We’re also working with our partners and the WHO on vaccine packaging projects and ‘thermostability’, which could extend the range of temperatures at which vaccines can be stored.
We understand the advantages that increased flexibility would bring to immunisation programs operating in remote, low-resource settings.
What are you most proud of?
Today, we have commitments in place with GAVI/UNICEF to supply up to 480 million doses of our pneumococcal vaccine over the next 10 years and 132 million doses of our rotavirus vaccine over the next five years. Together, these commitments will help to immunise 250 million children by the end of 2015.
To the end of 2011 we had provided over 14.5 billion doses of oral polio vaccine to the global eradication effort, and over the next five years we have committed to meet around a third of UNICEF’s polio vaccine requirements.
It is through these types of commitments that we can see progress towards closing the vaccination gap in developing countries. For example, earlier this year Pakistan introduced the world’s largest pneumococcal mass vaccination programme. It is expected to help protect 4.8 million children each year from pneumococcal disease, the leading cause of pneumonia.
More recently I attended the launch of the new rotavirus vaccination programme in Tanzania – another programme made possible by the GAVI partnership. It is estimated that rotavirus takes the lives of more than 8000 children in that country every year.
So where to next?
The way forward in achieving total access to vaccines lies in partnership. Industry has a contribution to make - but we certainly don’t have all the answers. The more we come together as a global community - industry, NGOs, academia, governments - the more likely we are to find innovative solutions to the challenges we’re facing.