An image makeover is in progress in the global pharmaceutical industry.

At the beginning of 2009, Andrew Witty, the young head honcho of Glaxo SmithKline (GSK) initiated a one CEO tirade to recognize the global poor as a stakeholder of the global pharmaceutical industry. The industry that has been much maligned over a period of time, despite its yeoman contribution to the mankind, for aiming its drug discovery and delivery more often at the rich patients and not at the sick poor of mostly the developing and underdeveloped nations of the world.
Walking the talk:
Witty perhaps wondered and questioned why the poor population must share disproportionately the disease burden of the world. As the saying goes, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’. Witty walked the talk and announced:

1. GSK medicines will be available in the least developed countries (LDC) of the world at 25% of their price in the United Kingdom (U.K).

2. 20% of profits from these medicines will be re-invested for various projects in those countries.

3. GSK will put 800 potential drug patents in a ‘patent pool’ to find cures of neglected, mainly, tropical diseases.

4. Scientists will be able to share the Research Center of GSK located at Tres Cantos in Spain for this purpose.

Will other global pharmaceutical players join in?

Andrew Witty, it appears, nurtures a very keen and very real desire to change the public image of the global pharmaceutical industry through transformation of its decade long culture and setting some of these path breaking examples, which only bravehearts can follow. However, many still feel, “Improving the greedy and uncaring image of the pharmaceutical industry is indeed a tough call.”

It has been reported in the media, during his announcement for the ‘patent pool’, the GSK CEO, in fact threw a challenge to other global pharmaceutical players to join him. What resulted thereafter was a bit of an anti-climax though with a very lukewarm response from others and Andrew with a sense of perhaps despair commented, “It has caught them a bit by surprise because we didn’t go around talking to people at the time, and they’ve had to come up this curve from zero.”

The Guardian in a very recent article on Andrew Witty, quoted him in the same context of extending access to modern medicines to the poor of LDCs, “he’s encouraging Indian companies to knock off its on-patent meds for sale in poor countries, as long as they make quality products and asks GSK for a license, which it will give royalty-free.”

In the same article, The Gurdian wrote, “He’s calling on every foreign company that makes profits in Uganda to cut its prices there”. “I don’t just mean drug companies,” Witty told the newspaper -”everybody.”

It does not cost much:

The GSK CEO admits that he is not losing much on his price cuts in the least developed countries. Uganda market of GSK is very small with turnover of about £9 million a year. The total profit from the LDCs is less than £5 million. “Those sorts of sums are like the 1p coins people don’t trouble to pick up off the pavement for a company with revenue of £24bn and a stock market valuation of £60bn,” he commented.


Despite not too many encouraging responses being forthcoming from others, it is indeed admirable that a top global pharma company head honcho is setting such tough goals for himself in particular and the industry in general. The question that flows from here, even reading all these:

Are you kidding Andrew Witty? Do you really mean all these? Or it is another smart global pharma CEO hankering for just cheap publicity?

Seeing you Andrew Witty, though long ago, in flesh and blood, my heart says, you are possibly not made of that stuff to befool the world on this pressing issue of the world, being at your wit’s end.

Tapan Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.

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