Glaxo offers free experimental malaria vaccine
New York/London: GlaxoSmithKline Plc hopes to seek approval by 2012 for its experimental malaria vaccine and said on Wednesday it would seek only a small profit and ensure it is widely available in hard-hit countries.
Chief Executive Andrew Witty also said the company would give away access to a stock of 13,500 potential malaria treatments for others to test and develop further if they show promise against the disease.
Glaxo will likely derive a "small 5 percent return" on the vaccine, Witty said, enough to help encourage other drugmakers to continue their own research against diseases that remain big killers in least developed countries.
"(Its) sales in dollars will be a very small number," he told reporters ahead of a planned speech on Wednesday to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
"We must ... ensure that we do not do anything which would discourage other companies from entering into this field," he said, adding that Glaxo`s return would be reinvested into research on medicines for diseases in poor countries.
"If we set a precedent of not-for-profit (pricing), we could discourage others from doing research into malaria or other neglected tropical diseases."
The Mosquirix vaccine is expected to complete late-stage trials in 2011 involving 16,000 people. If proven effective, and approved by regulators, it would be the first to protect against infection with mosquito-borne parasites that cause malaria.
"If it lives up to its promise, I think it`s incredible," Witty said. He said it could be a major weapon in the battle against the disease, which kills more than 1 million people a year worldwide, most of them children in Africa and Asia.
Free Malaria research
Five researchers at Glaxo have spent a year testing 2 million molecules to identify any that might be developed into a treatment against malaria.
Witty said the 13,500 they had come up with would now be offered free to the scientific and research community, and other companies, to investigate further.
"This is the furthest anybody has gone," he said. "Nobody has put into the public domain the product of a 2 million screen (of molecules). These are essentially the building blocks from which all of our drugs eventually come."
As long as any results helped in the battle against malaria, he said, there would be "no strings attached" and Glaxo would not expect to receive payment of royalties for the initial work.
Glaxo last year said it would grant researchers in developing countries access to 800 related patents and patent applications -- known as a patent pool -- on tropical diseases.
Witty said the firm would likely be inclined at some point to also allow researchers access to patents involving possible treatments for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, which has taken an especially heavy toll in Africa.
"We want to be part of constructive engagement," he said, referring to a possible HIV-drug patent pool.
In the meantime, he said Glaxo had already granted eight voluntary licenses in Africa that allow others to produce generic forms of the company`s HIV treatments without paying royalties to the London-based drugmaker.
"Last year, those people who took those licenses from us actually manufactured and delivered into least developed countries four times more product than we did," Witty said.
The British-based drugmaker is also setting up an "open lab" in Tres Cantos, Spain, for scientists to pursue work against tropical diseases using Glaxo`s equipment and setting up an $8 million not-for-profit foundation to help fund the project.