GSK joins new global partnership to help defeat ten neglected tropical diseases by 2020

GSK today announced it has joined other global pharmaceutical companies and leading organisations including the WHO, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Department for International Development and the USAID in a new united effort to support developing countries to defeat neglected tropical diseases.

Issued: London, UK

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) today announced it has joined other global pharmaceutical companies and leading organisations including the World Health Organization (WHO), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Department for International Development and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in a new united effort to support developing countries to defeat neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). NTDs affect more than one billion people in developing countries, causing illness, disability and death, and increasing the burden on over-stretched health systems.

This coalition will support the ambitious goals set out this week by the WHO to control or eliminate ten of the 17 diseases designated as NTDs by the end of the decade. This includes eliminating five diseases: lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), guinea worm, blinding trachoma, sleeping sickness and leprosy, and controlling a further five: soil transmitted helminthes (intestinal worms), schistosomiasis, river blindness, Chagas and visceral leishmaniasis by 2020. 

Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of GSK said: “I am delighted to announce that GSK is part of this united effort to free future generations from the burden of neglected tropical diseases. We fully support the WHO’s bold vision and we are committed to playing our part in helping to achieve universal coverage of intervention programmes for diseases that can be controlled or eliminated by existing treatments, and to spur R&D into new treatments for diseases where none currently exist. Through this new partnership, we have both the means and the energy to strike a decisive blow against disease in the world’s poorest countries.” 

In support of these goals, GSK has expanded its significant albendazole donation programme which targets two neglected diseases and has strengthened its commitment to support R&D efforts. GSK has today pledged to extend by an additional five years its commitment to donate 400 million albendazole tablets each year to the WHO to enable de-worming of school age children in all endemic countries. Expanding this programme, which was initially planned to run to 2015, will equate to an additional two billion tablets of albendazole being donated up to 2020. 

GSK has also reaffirmed its commitment to supply all the albendazole needed to eliminate lymphatic filariasis worldwide by 2020. GSK currently donates 600 million tablets of albendazole each year to WHO to prevent transmission of lymphatic filariasis and has donated over two billion doses to the WHO to date. During 2000 to 2010, GSK donated over 2.6 billion albendazole treatments to 58 countries. The overall economic benefit of the lymphatic filariasis programme during 2000-2007 is conservatively estimated at US$ 24 billion. 

GSK will continue to play an open and active role in developing new and better treatments for NTDs through collaborative partnerships such as with the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), a not-for-profit R&D organisation. GSK shares knowledge, research and intellectual property with groups such as DNDi to support drug discovery efforts against diseases including sleeping sickness, visceral leishmaniasis and Chagas. GSK is also a founder member of the WIPO Re:Search consortium created to help accelerate the development of new and better treatments against NTDs. 

In addition, GSK continues to invest in its own active R&D programme for diseases that most affect developing countries, including NTDs. This R&D portfolio currently includes projects for Chagas, dengue, human African trypanosomiasis and leishmaniasis.


Lymphatic filariasis: Lymphatic filariasis or elephantiasis is a disfiguring disease found mainly in tropical countries. It is caused by a parasite and spread by mosquitoes. It is one of the world's major causes of permanent disability affecting over 120 million people.2 In December 1997, we formed a collaboration with the WHO to spearhead efforts to eliminate lymphatic filariasis. Since then, the programme has evolved into a major public-private partnership known as the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis. 

WHO recommends that lymphatic filariasis infection can be prevented by treating entire endemic communities once a year with two co-administered anti-parasitic drugs for a minimum of five years. In African countries the drugs are albendazole and ivermectin (Mectizan®, donated by Merck and Co., Inc.), and for the rest of the world, albendazole and diethylcarbamazine (DEC, a generic drug).2 

GSK has pledged to donate albendazole, for as long as necessary until the disease is eliminated; best estimates put the scale of this commitment at around six billion treatments. Under our current commitment we donate 600 million tablets each year to the WHO to support efforts to eliminate lymphatic filariasis. In addition to donating free albendazole tablets, we provide significant financial support for coalition-building, workshops and communications, and dedicated staff expertise. 

Soil transmitted helminths: Soil transmitted helminthsor intestinal worms are the main cause of disease burden in school age children in developing countries, often resulting in growth stunting, anaemia, malnutrition and poor school performance.3 WHO recommends annual treatment of children in endemic areas with single dose de-worming medicines such as albendazole.4 De-worming results in substantial improvements in child health and development, which also improves school attendance, school results and productivity,1 and could help to reduce the burden on already overstretched health systems. In September 2011, GSK formalised a commitment with WHO donate 400 million tablets of albendazole each year to treat school age children at risk of intestinal worms. 

R&D for NTDs: GSK has a specific R&D group focused on diseases of the developing world, including NTDs. Its R&D portfolio already includes projects for a number of diseases of particular relevance to developing countries including: bacterial meningitis, Chagas disease, chlamydia, dengue, HIV/AIDS, human African trypanosomiasis, leishmaniasis, malaria, pandemic influenza, pneumococcal disease and TB. 

GSK has established an R&D centre in Tres Cantos, Spain dedicated to research for NTDs, malaria and tuberculosis (TB) where researchers from external organisations and academic centres work alongside GSK scientists as part of an Open Lab initiative. So far, within the Open Lab, 11 scientists have worked on seven projects at the campus. Among the projects underway are research to identify and optimise compounds that could be tested in humans against multi-drug resistant TB, three separate projects into malaria, including one that investigates potential compounds from the GSK chemical library, and a new approach against the parasites that can cause leishmaniasis. 

GSK continues to invest in vaccine research against diseases of the developing world. The company has been working on a malaria vaccine for more than two decades. Positive first results from the phase III study of GSK’s candidate vaccine, RTS,S, being developed in partnership with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), were announced in October 2011. 

In October 2011, GSK joined WIPO Re:Search as a founding member. WIPO Re:Search is an evolution of GSK’s Pool for Open Innovation against Neglected Tropical Diseases (POINT). It brings together eight leading pharmaceutical companies in collaboration with the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and multiple non-profit research organizations under the auspices of WIPO – a UN body – to help accelerate the development of new and better treatments against NTDs. 

Access to medicines: GSK has a number of initiatives aimed at increasing access to medicines in the poorest countries in the world, including the creation of the Developing Countries and Market Access (DCMA) unit in 2010. In least developed countries (LDCs), where many people survive on less than US$1 a day, GSK caps the prices of GSK patented medicines and vaccines at no more than 25% of developed world prices and reinvests 20% of profits back into projects that strengthen healthcare infrastructure in these countries. 

GSK has a long-standing tiered pricing policy for vaccines which enables poorer countries to pay significantly less than higher income countries for the same vaccine with the lowest prices for agencies such as UNICEF which purchase large volumes of vaccines for the world’s poorest children. GSK vaccines are included in immunisation campaigns in 182 countries worldwide and 1.4 billion vaccine doses were delivered in 2010, of which nearly 1 billion were shipped for use in developing countries. 

A webcast of the announcement can be viewed at 

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1.       First WHO report on neglected tropical diseases: working to overcome the global impact of neglected tropical diseases. World Health Organization 2010. ISBN 978 92 4 1564090.

2. [accessed 24 January 2012].

3.       Thinking beyond deworming. The Lancet 2004, Vol 364, 9450: 1993-1994.

4.       Preventive Chemotherapy in human helminthaisis: coordinated use of anthelminthic drugs in control interventions: a manual for health professionals and programme managers. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2006.

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