Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), has decided to freely share its research on potential anti-malaria compounds with researchers around the world.
Each year thousands of Africans succumb to malaria, a deadly yet preventable and curable disease. Many health experts agree that one of the main challenges in fighting the disease is access to medicine for millions of people living in poor countries. Malaria drugs are expensive or unavailable in rural communities.
Western pharmaceutical firms have often been criticized for guarding information and research on malaria drugs. GSK is one of the world’s biggest research-based pharmaceutical companies, and scientists agree that sharing its research will provide a boost in the fight against malaria.
“This will stimulate more discovery, more open collaboration between us and academics and maybe biotech companies to try and address the diseases like malaria that dominate Africa,” says Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline.
He says he hopes this “open innovation” strategy will help deliver new and better medicines for people living in the world’s poorest countries.
GSK is making its research, including the chemical structures and associated data on malaria and other diseases, freely available to the public via leading scientific websites.
This is the first time a pharmaceutical company has made public the structures of so many of its compounds.
Witty’s fight against neglected disease is personal, given the fact that he saw the effects first hand when he lived in Africa and Asia.
In addition to the damage malaria does to people’s health, it contributes to an ongoing cycle of poverty, leaving people unable to work, go to school or take part in family and community life. Witty says that in addition to malaria, GSK will increase research in Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)---a group of chronic infections affecting millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa -- mostly those living in remote rural areas.
Many drug companies have ended their active research on these diseases, hampering the effort to find new drugs. “There is no market to stimulate research and so we need to find other ways to stimulate interest in this field,” Witty says.
GSK also sponsors the African Malaria Partnership, a program which works “to improve the prevention and treatment of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.” The company has announced an award of $2.5 million for companies associated with the partnership, with additional pledges to create “sustainable pricing model for world’s most advanced malaria candidate vaccine.”