GSK earmarks sh66b for disease research

By Pascal Kwesiga

Added 10th November 2016 05:34 PM

The initiative is geared towards developing prevention and treatment routines for NCDs and other diseases.

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The initiative is geared towards developing prevention and treatment routines for NCDs and other diseases.

For the next three years, British pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) will spend as much as £15m (sh66b) in grants on researchers in universities and health facilities in Uganda and other ten African countries for development of new possible disease prevention and treatment regimens.

The firm, through the healthcare investment dubbed the Open Lab Initiative, will provide funds to African scientists who will pitch compelling research proposals for development of new prevention and treatment regimes for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and other ailments.

GSK chief medical officer Dr. Stewart Murray had engagements with a number of Ugandan scientists from education institutions and health facilities as well as policy makers in Kampala, with a view of forging partnerships between the pharmaceutical company and local researchers to get the project started.

“One of the reasons I am here is to support activities of our NCDs Open Lab Initiative. By directly supporting research in Africa, we are further strengthening our commitment to develop local scientific research and talent,” Murray said during an interview in Kampala.

The initiative, he explained, is geared towards developing prevention and treatment routines for NCDs and other diseases for Africa as well as training and developing research capacity around the continent.

“We have already made the call for proposals and successful applicants will get up to £100,000 (sh437m). Proposals will be evaluated by an independent board of academics around the continent. We have grants for big studies and smaller grants for young researchers,” Murray stated.

Listed on the London and New York stock exchanges, GSK was ranked the world’s sixth largest pharmaceutical company last year, and had a market capitalization of £81b (over sh350trilion) as of August this year.

The firm sells a range of medicines, including HIV antiretroviral drugs, and vaccines to Governments and institutions with approval and recommendation from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Open Lab Initiative, Murray explained, forms part of the company’s business and healthcare strategy to make medicines and vaccines accessible to the people besides earning profits from sales.

“We have been in Uganda for 25 years and we make sure that 20% of our profits is investment into the healthcare of that country. We have trained midwives in rural areas to reduce maternal death,” he said.

First malaria vaccine

The company has developed a vaccine against malaria, Mosquirix, and its efficacy is currently being tested in Kenya. GSK plans to introduce the vaccine which has been approved by WHO in Uganda by next year. It is so far the first malaria vaccine to be developed.

Murray said GSK will waive parent rights requirements and issue licenses to interested local companies in Uganda and other African countries to imitate and produce medicines and vaccines currently protected by intellectual property rights laws to reduce their cost in low income countries.

“We know that affordability is a challenge on the continent and people do not always have the finances to get best medicines. We want to make our medicines affordable to as many people as possible,” he added.

GSK country manager, Sam Mbowa, said the firm, which runs a partnership with AMREF, spent about $200,000 (about sh700m) last year on retooling midwives deployed in rural health facilities.

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