business corporate responsibility health poverty

Glaxosmithkline finds its heart

One of the great failures of the market system is the pharmaceuticals industry. The most serious health problems are in the developing world, but all the money is in the developed world. This skews the industry’s priorities, leading to pointless medical innovations such as botox, while millions die of neglected diseases like malaria or TB every year.

The pharmaceutical companies, being corporations with shareholders to answer to, have been unable or unwilling to focus on the poor. Of particular concern was their refusal to lower their prices for poorer countries or to share information, meaning those who needed medecines the most had no access to them.

So today’s news is very welcome: The new boss of GlaxoSmithKline, Andrew Witty, has announced a radical new approach. GSK, the world’s second largest pharamaceutical company, will address the needs of the developing world in a series of new measures – prices of drugs will be cut by at least 75% for poorer countries. 20% of profits will be re-invested in third world medical facilities. Best of all, the company plans to make its own research available to other companies and researchers, pooling their knowledge to find new cures.

“We work like crazy to come up with the next great medicine,” Witty told the Guardian, “knowing that it’s likely to get used an awful lot in developed countries, but we could do something for developing countries.  Are we working as hard on that? I want to be able to say yes we are, and that’s what this is all about – trying to make sure we are even-handed in terms of our efforts to find solutions not just for developed but for developing countries.”

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