(Bloomberg) -- GSK Plc plans to invest £1 billion ($1.2 billion) over a decade to accelerate work on new medicines and vaccines to combat malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, neglected tropical diseases and antibiotic resistance.
The UK drugmaker said it has also formed a global health unit focused on the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases that disproportionately affect lower-income nations, an area that’s not usually profitable. The unit will have a “ring-fenced” budget, with results measured by health impact rather than financial returns, said Thomas Breuer, the company’s chief global health officer.
Pharmaceutical companies are responding to calls to boost investment in tackling infectious diseases and widen access to drugs, vaccines and other tools in developing countries as they focus on lucrative areas such as cancer. Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG on Thursday said it will invest $250 million over five years to fight neglected diseases and malaria, while Covid vaccine-maker Moderna Inc. has said it plans to start human trials of vaccines against 15 viruses and other pathogens by 2025.
One of GSK’s priorities is developing vaccines against certain infections as part of an effort to curb the rise of antibiotic-resistant versions. The drugmaker said it aims to speed work on more than 30 assets targeting over a dozen diseases, building on its delivery of the first-ever malaria vaccine and a TB vaccine candidate.
“Antimicrobial resistance is a big problem and is currently overshadowed by Covid, and essentially many of the standard antibiotics we have do not work anymore,” Breuer said in an interview from Kigali, Rwanda, where he’s attending a summit on malaria and neglected diseases. Vaccines to prevent infectious diseases “can reduce dramatically the use of antibiotics,” he said.
GSK also is doubling production of an adjuvant -- a substance that enhances the immune response to vaccines -- for use in the malaria shot to help meet demand. The shot, known as RTS,S, won a key recommendation from the World Health Organization last year, and GSK is in the final stages of negotiating a multi-year supply contract with Unicef, the agency focused on global child health, Breuer said.
In some cases, GSK will rely on partners to take over development and bring new products to patients. That’s what the company did in 2020 when it licensed an experimental shot against tuberculosis to the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute. The division expects to bring in additional funds from organizations like the Gates Foundation or Wellcome equal to 10% to 15% of its investment, he said. That’s equivalent to as much as 150 million pounds over 10 years.
The new global health unit, led by Breuer, has one team focused on developing drugs in Tres Cantos, Spain, outside Madrid. Another group dedicated to vaccines is based in Siena, Italy.
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