Having recently proposed a new approach to tackling health problems specific to the developing world, GlaxoSmithKline has announced plans to put 800 of its patents into a pool to stimulate research into neglected tropical diseases.

The company has issued its annual corporate responsibility report, which puts some meat on the commitments made by chief executive Andrew Witty last month in a speech at the Harvard Medical School. GSK says it will place over 500 granted patents and over 300 pending applications in the aforementioned pool and will set out a mechanism “to enable third parties to request access to other intellectual property and know-how about its medicines which may help researchers to develop new treatments for neglected tropical diseases”.

GSK also noted that it will reduce prices for patented medicines in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) so they are no higher than 25% of the developed world price, as long as this covers cost of goods “to ensure this policy is sustainable”. The firm is cutting the price on 110 products and formulations across LDCs with an average reduction of 45%, starting April 1.

The company confirmed that it will reinvest 20% of profits made from sales in the LDCs “to support strengthening of healthcare infrastructure”. GSK also revealed that it gave £124 million to “charitable initiatives” in 2008, up 13%, and £68 million of that came in product donations.

Key among its charitable programmes has been GSK’s efforts to eradicate lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis. Since 1998, it has donated over one billion albendazole treatments and 570 million people in 48 countries have been treated.

More transparency over clinical research
The company also announced additional steps to increase transparency regarding clinical research and its relationships with healthcare professionals. This includes the expansion of the publication of research of its medicines on GSK’s Clinical Study Register, the names of investigators who participate in new trials and financial arrangements with groups that conduct these trials.

Mr Witty said “we recognise that GSK has unique and privileged capabilities. Continually strengthening our contract with society is vitally important and this is why we are fully committed to operating to the highest ethical standards”.