Defying skeptics, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has persisted with its quest for a malarial vaccine for 30 years. The company is hopeful of filing for regulatory approval for it next year said CEO, Andrew Witty in an interview.
He said the vaccine will not be priced with an eye on profits as there is no point in pricing it at a level where the people who really need it cannot have it. “So, what people can be assured of is whatever the lowest cost we can get it to, that will be the price it gets passed through,” said Witty. Malaria vaccine is a good example of the company’s broad commitment to innovate and improve access to medicine and healthcare for people. It is not just a programme or a PR campaign, he said.
Question: Let me get your thoughts on the Malaria vaccine. When are you launching that?
Andrew Witty: Malaria vaccine – we have had very encouraging data over the last two years. We continue to analyze all of that data but we are hopeful and optimistic we are going to be able to file for regulatory approval during 2014. If all goes well that should give us the opportunity to start to look for approvals and then recommendations on use during I guess the end of 2015 and early 2016. We already have the first manufacturing capabilities built. First dosage will come out of Belgium. We have built a relatively small facility there. However, we have enough there to start. We are just going through the process of deciding where to install our next expansion capacity ready for higher demand. So, it is a very exciting period. This programme began in the early 1980s, so, 30 years. Up until 5 years ago many people thought we were either crazy or dreaming to believe that we could ultimately find a vaccine and yet the data we are now seeing gives us a high degree of optimism that we could infact have the first potential vaccine for Malaria – not perfect – it won’t cover everything but could make a very material impact. That is why we are committed to going forward to file for approval.
Question: I head you in a conversation with Steve Forbes where you said you will sell this almost at cost but how much will it be priced at?
Andrew Witty: We haven’t finalised. We are still working to get the price as low as possible and a little bit it depends on how much the volume is. What we are committed to do is essentially to sell this not for profit price. So, what people can be assured of is whatever the lowest cost we can get it to that will be the price it gets passed through into.
Question: Would your shareholders be happy? It is 30 years in the making and you are not going to make a whopping profit out of it?
Andrew Witty: I hope they will be because we all understand that the communities who stand to benefit from a potential malaria vaccine really have very limited economic resources. So, to sit here and say we spent 30 years developing this incredible potential breakthrough and yet then to price it at a level where the very people who need it cannot have it seems to me to be wrong. Obviously, as a company of the size of GSK this fits within the portfolio of everything else we do; of course there is a cross subsidisation from other parts of our business to help us do this to some degree. Often people look at big companies and say what is your corporate responsibility activity – very often companies are criticised for whether it is just superficial? At GSK it is very hard to argue that. There is real evidence in several areas including the malaria area where we are really deploying our core business model to try and do the right thing in terms of help and improve health status not just for rich people but for everybody in the world. So, for me this fits within that really broad commitment that it is not just a programme, it is not just a PR campaign, we have a commitment to innovate and improve access to medicines and healthcare wherever people are. Malaria is a really good example of that and it sits very proudly alongside all the other things we do.