GlaxoSmithKline has outlined a series of initiatives aimed at attacking neglected diseases and says that its experimental malaria vaccine is just a couple of years away from being approved.

First up, the drugs giant is to make 13,500 malaria compounds freely available to researchers, via “leading scientific websites”. GSK has screened more than 2 million molecules for any that may inhibit the malaria parasite P. falciparum, the deadliest form of the disease, a process which took five scientists a year to complete.

Timothy Wells, chief scientific officer of the Medicines for Malaria Venture, which has been working with GSK on the project, said that by sharing the data from the screening collaboration, “the research community can start to build up a public repository of knowledge that should be as powerful as the human genome databases”. He added that it could “set a new trend to revolutionise the urgent search for new medicines to tackle malaria”.

GSK also outlined what it calls a “sustainable approach" it has developed to price RTS,S, the world’s most advanced malaria candidate vaccine, which is currently in late-stage trials across seven African countries.
The pricing model “will cover the cost of the vaccine together with a small return” which will be “fully reinvested into R&D for second-generation malaria vaccines, or vaccines for other neglected tropical diseases”.

Andrew Witty, GSK chief executive, told reporters that taking a “small return” of around 5% is a sensible step because "if we set a precedent of not-for-profit (pricing), we could discourage others from doing research” into these diseases. He made the comments before giving a speech in New York later today where he will say that while changing the business model for the company to improve performance, “equally important is the imperative to earn the trust of society, not just by meeting expectations but by exceeding them”.

Mr Witty argues that the various measures being announced “are characterised by a determination to be more flexible, open and willing to learn”. He added that “we are working with world-class partners to find new business models to expand access to medicines”, saying that GSK “has the capability to make a difference and a genuine appetite to change the landscape of healthcare for the world_s poorest people”.

Other initiatives include the establishment of an ‘Open Lab’ based at the company_s research centre at Tres Cantos campus, Spain, with capacity for scientists to develop new medicines for diseases of the developing world. Initial seed investment of $8 million has been set aside for the not-for-profit project.

GSK also announced that governance of its previously-announced ‘knowledge pool’ will be taken over by an independent third party, BIO Ventures for Global Health, and the Emory Institute for Drug
Discovery is the latest partner that has agreed to join. Also, a collaboration has also been established with South African firm iThemba Pharmaceuticals to discover new medicines to treat tuberculosis.