Creating the GSK of today: 1950 – 1999
These fifty years were pivotal in our history. During this period, we developed the first treatment for HIV, enhanced our consumer brands and developed new treatments for asthma. Company consolidation led to the formation of SmithKline Beecham and Glaxo Wellcome, which would ultimately merge to become GSK.
What’s exciting about a nucleus?
Scientists at Beecham Research Labs (Beecham’s R&D subsidiary, registered in 1945) began focusing their development efforts on penicillin production in 1954. In 1957, they discovered the penicillin nucleus – the core of the molecule – known as 6-APA. From this nucleus, they determined that they could develop new, more effective penicillins.
Nobel Prize-winning discoveries
At Burroughs Wellcome & Co. (USA), the Wellcome Foundation’s US subsidiary, the research team under Dr. George Hitchings made a series of important discoveries from 1951 to 1981, including some of the first treatments for leukaemia, gout, viral infections and organ transplant rejection. Hitchings, along with Gertrude Elion, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1988 for their revolutionary discoveries of important principles for drug treatment.
In 1984, Burroughs Wellcome & Co. scientist Marty St. Clair was at the forefront of developing the first treatment for HIV - which was approved in 1987 - utilising the methods pioneered by Elion and Hitchings.
Penicillin nucleus discovered at Beecham Research Labs
First medicine developed for the treatment of HIV
George Hitchings, Gertrude Elion and James Black win Nobel Prize in Medicine
In 1957, Burroughs Wellcome & Co. (USA) introduced a new treatment for cold and flu symptoms, Sudafed, followed by Actifed two years later, both of which became popular consumer brands.
In 1960, Contac was launched by Smith Kline & French Co. and became the world’s best-selling cold and allergy treatment.
Oral care products
In 1973, Beecham Group released a new toothpaste, Aquafresh, which quickly became known for its stripes. The first two stripes were for fighting tooth decay and fresh breath. The third stripe was added in 1981, for healthy gums.
Glaxo takes on asthma
Glaxo Laboratories Ltd. acquired Allen & Hanburys Ltd. in 1958. In 1963, a research team was formed to focus on developing an effective asthma treatment; the first medicine was introduced in 1969, and several more followed over the subsequent decades. Scientists at Glaxo also worked to improve the mechanism of delivery with an easier to use device.
Glaxo Laboratories Ltd. acquires Allen & Hanburys Ltd.
Contac cold and flu brand released
Beecham Aquafresh toothpaste released
Drug discovery: ulcer treatment
Scientists at Smith Kline & French Laboratories developed a breakthrough treatment for ulcer sufferers in 1976, which sold over $1 billion two years later. The company’s Sir James Black was awarded a Nobel Prize for his research methods that aided this discovery.
And then there were two…
In 1989, SmithKline Corp. (the parent company of Smith Kline & French Laboratories) merged with the Beecham Group plc to form SmithKline Beecham plc.
In 1986, the Wellcome Trust publicly sold shares of the Wellcome Foundation Ltd. to form Wellcome plc. In 1995, the Trust sold its remaining shares to Glaxo plc, forming the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, Glaxo Wellcome plc.
Thus, by 1995, the majority of our legacy companies had fed into either Glaxo Wellcome or SmithKline Beecham.
SmithKline Corp. (the parent company of Smith Kline & French Labs) merges with Beckman Instruments to form SmithKline Beckman Corp.
The Wellcome Trust publicly sells shares of the Wellcome Foundation Ltd. to form Wellcome plc
SmithKline Beckman Corp. separates from Beckman and merges with Beecham Group plc to form SmithKline Beecham plc
The Welcome Trust sells its remaining shares to Glaxo plc, forming Glaxo Wellcome plc
Explore our history timeline
GSK today: 2000 – present
With our three global businesses of Pharmaceuticals, Vaccines and Consumer Healthcare, we aim to bring differentiated, high-quality and needed healthcare products to as many people as possible.
Innovative entrepreneurs: 1715 – 1891
The early history of GSK: how a range of entrepreneurs built the foundations of the GSK we know today.
Going global: 1892 – 1918
In this period, our legacy companies expanded globally, developing and selling new products worldwide.
Building brands: 1919 – 1949
An era of landmark scientific breakthroughs, building brand portfolios and product consolidation.