During the FT Global Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Conference last week, GSK global vaccines president Roger Connor shared some of his insights regarding the reorganization of GSK’s Consumer Health, Pharmaceuticals and Vaccines business units, their pandemic adjuvant system technology, and their – and the industry’s overall – commitment to COVID-19 vaccine safety. Read below for six unmissable takeaways from his Q&A!
On GSK’s reorganization and the synergies between pharma and vaccine R&D
“I see the science converging between vaccines and ‘traditional’ pharma. You will see in our vaccines pipeline [that] we have a breadth of products, we are moving more into older adults, we are moving more into therapeutic vaccination, and we have some joint projects between pharma and vaccines research development … we are making sure that the engines in the new GSK are world-class engines of development … the most exciting bit for me is the scientific synergy between the groups and getting that spark going.”
On the growing opportunities in older adult vaccines and GSK’s shingles vaccine
“It is the science … [our] scientific understanding of the immune system as we get older is getting better. Only 20 years ago, you say the word vaccine and [people think] that is for kids. Something like Shingrix®, [which is] for people over 50, that is a game-changing vaccine for a horrible condition with an efficacy of over 90 percent. The secret sauce in that vaccine is our adjuvant system, [which] is proven to have an impact on age-related decline in immunity. We are using this in other older adult vaccines like our respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) candidate … if we can switch the world on to older adult vaccination, that will have a very big impact on public health.”
On GSK’s decision to leverage their adjuvant technology in the COVID-19 vaccine race
“We knew we had to play a very important role … we have this platform technology called an adjuvant[, which] creates an amplified response and reduces the dose you need … in a pandemic where volume is everything, we felt that was absolutely key … we also felt that multiple vaccines were going to be needed, so what we decided to do strategically was to open our adjuvant technology to the world … [the key question was,] who should we best partner with that would have the biggest impact? … We are very comfortable with our choice of strategy.”
On the GSK-Sanofi COVID-19 partnership and doing the right thing
“The moment we connected and saw the win-win between us, both companies moved super fast; we suddenly realized there was something special we could do here … The world is waiting for a solution so just being part of this is something special … There are collaborations like the GSK-Sanofi collaborations … that are being done just because they are the right thing to do … We have said that during this pandemic phase, we will discount the price of this adjuvant, and we will [reinvest] any profit that we make … in the R&D associated with either this vaccine, future coronavirus vaccines or pandemic preparedness.”
On ramping up manufacturing capabilities for their COVID-19 adjuvant
“The adjuvant technology we have is a backbone technology that already exists. It is not a new formulation; it is something we know how to make. We are ramping that capability up but at least the supply chain exists already. That is why our confidence in that billion is quite high [GSK has committed to manufacturing one billion doses of their pandemic vaccine adjuvant system in 2021 to support the development of multiple adjuvanted COVID-19 vaccine candidates] … to put it in context, GSK typically manufactures 700 million doses across all of our vaccines … we will do a billion doses of adjuvant alone next year.”
On public safety concerns regarding any potential COVID-19 vaccine
“We do know that some people are worried … what we have to do is just continue to show people that we are not compromising safety one single bit … we are still doing the same-sized clinical trials that we do for normal vaccines, we are still testing in the same number of people … there are smart things that we are doing that allow us to go faster without compromising that safety … the industry released a pledge a couple of weeks ago to say that we will not compromise safety and we will not let a vaccine we do not believe in, from a safety and efficacy perspective, go out … we have to make sure that people have the data and data sources – trusted sources, the regulators, healthcare practitioners – that would allow them to make an informed decision.”
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