Yana Syrovatka, Government Affairs and Communication Manager, GSK Ukraine, shared her professional vision for the development of pharmaceuticals against COVID-19. She noted that the introduction of innovative technologies in the development and production of medicines and vaccines, according to the company’s long-term strategy, significantly accelerates their release, improving effectiveness and safety indicators.
LDaily: GlaxoSmithKline is one of the few pharmaceutical companies to develop its own drugs and vaccines to fight three priority diseases according to the WHO classification: HIV / AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. You are currently working on the COVID-19 vaccine with Sanofi. Please tell us, what stage are you at? When is the vaccine scheduled to be released?
Y. Syrovatka: Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, GSK has been closely monitoring the situation, fully supporting global efforts to combat the virus, and considering all possible ways to help using the company’s scientific developments and experience. GSK develops solutions to combat COVID-19 based on four principles: cooperation, global approach, access, and pandemic preparedness.
GSK is working with several organizations developing advanced vaccines against COVID-19, providing access to its own unique adjuvant technology. It allows you to produce more doses with less antigen. An adjuvant vaccine creates a stronger and longer-lasting immunity against infections in a shorter time than a vaccine without this component. GSK believes that more than one type of vaccine will be needed to counter the pandemic, and hopes that several successful vaccines will be developed using GSK adjuvant technology. The company plans to produce up to 1 billion doses of adjuvant starting from 2021 to support all collaboration projects with other companies. Three of these joint vaccine projects are at different stages of clinical trials:
In September 2020, GSK CEO Emma Walmsley signed an agreement with eight other pharmaceutical companies to maintain the integrity of the research process during the research and development of COVID-19 vaccines.
In parallel with the development of an adjuvant vaccine against COVID-19, GSK continues to seek new ways to control the pandemic, including the study of potential therapies and monoclonal antibodies for patients with COVID-19. GSK, in collaboration with VIR Biotechnology, is investigating 2 monoclonal antibodies for the potential treatment of patients with COVID-19. Three studies are in phase 3 and one in phase 1/2. The first results of the research are expected in the first quarter of 2021.
Also in May 2020, GSK launched a global phase II study to assess whether some of our potential new drugs, otilimab, which is also a monoclonal antibody, could help some patients with COVID-19 who have an over-immune response and may result in hospitalization or death. The results of this study are expected in the first half of 2021.
All current information on GSK’s COVID-19 pandemic activities can be found on the company`s website.
LDaily: What can be the difficulties in the supply chain? What to consider? How will you distribute the vaccine worldwide?
Y. Syrovatka: GSK’s key objectives for the pandemic period are to support the uninterrupted supply of all GSK products from the production site to the patient, and to develop new solutions for the protection of the health and well-being of workers in response to a pandemic.
Globally, GSK aims to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are available to all people who need them. In particular, our adjuvant will be available to the world’s poorest countries – both through donations and through collaboration with global organizations that can identify needs and help with delivery.
GSK and Sanofi have already signed agreements with the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, as well as with the European Commission to supply the vaccine if it is successful. In addition, we plan to provide a significant share of the total worldwide supply to the Global Coronavirus Alliance COVAX, which Ukraine has recently joined.
Recognizing the great importance of vaccination in general and in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, GSK makes every effort to ensure stable access to quality medicines and vaccines in all countries of the world, including Ukraine. During 2020, GSK vaccines were regularly delivered to Ukraine without delay and in the planned amount, are available for routine vaccination of children and adults in both public and private clinics.
GSK Ukraine constantly monitors the situation in the country and the world and takes all possible measures to protect the health of employees, healthcare professionals, patients and maintain the continuity of GSK’s business processes. In particular, our company joined the initiative of the Patients of Ukraine Charitable Foundation, thanks to which thousands of medical workers were provided with protective equipment against COVID-19.
LDaily: What could be the cost of a potential vaccine?
Y. Syrovatka: Our approach to pricing takes into account the scale of COVID-19 and the enormous impact that the pandemic has on the world’s population and health systems while maintaining a balance supporting the sustainability of our business model. We supply our adjuvant to governments and organizations at a reasonable price, either in the form of individual adjuvants or as part of an adjuvant vaccine.
GSK does not expect to profit from collaborating on adjuvant vaccines against COVID-19 during a pandemic. Any short-term gains that can be made will be invested in supporting coronavirus-related research and long-term pandemic preparedness.
LDaily: What approaches to digital health does GlaxoSmithKline use? What do you see as the biggest problem for GSK in the field of digital transformation?
Y. Syrovatka: The opportunities offered by the world of digital and virtual reality are enormous. Globally, GSK is working with leading technology companies to take a fresh look at how to combine science, technology, and business. The use of new digital technologies helps GSK to quickly innovate and implement them in production. Digital transformation ensures the transparency of processes, which is fully consistent with the company’s values. And the main test, in my opinion, is related to the restriction of live human communication, which provides not only the exchange of information but also emotions and creative ideas!
We are constantly investing in scientific and technical excellence globally to develop innovative medicines. For example, in 2018 the company introduced an innovative “Genetically Managed Portfolio” approach, which provides a targeted shift in focus to science related to the immune system, the widespread use of genetics, artificial intelligence capabilities, and investment in advanced technologies. GSK is currently conducting research in a new scientific field – bioelectronic medicine, which is based on the use of miniature implanted devices instead of traditional pills and injections.
Regarding the “digital” health of the company’s employees, GSK is constantly updating the cybersecurity system and improving the skills of employees around the world, implementing modern digital solutions for effective operational management (eg, easy and fast online reporting, placing orders, communication with customers, etc). GSK offers employees a Feel Good physical and mental health recovery program as part of the Modern Employer corporate project. It includes a wide range of activities: a program to restore psychological resilience, mindfulness, and mental health training, a program to help employees in difficult situations (including the support of psychologists), a program to intensify physical activity in the format of a 90-day team competition Global Challenge with 10,000 steps per day, as well as compensation for fitness, participation in marathons and sports, a unique prevention program for screening and vaccination.
LDaily: In 2019, GSK acquired a part of the business in the development and production of over-the-counter drugs and health products Pfizer. How has this acquisition affected the company? Has the company’s business structure changed?
Y. Syrovatka: In August 2019, GSK announced the completion of an agreement with Pfizer to merge businesses in the development and production of over-the-counter drugs and health products. The new joint venture Consumer Healthcare with two complementary portfolios of the GSK and Pfizer brands has a high potential to take first place in the market of over-the-counter drugs in the world.
Within three years of the completion of the agreement, the new joint venture will be separated from the GSK pharmaceutical and vaccine business. This intention paves the way for the creation of a new global biopharmaceutical company and a new world leader in the production of over-the-counter drugs and health products.
Today in Ukraine, the global strategy is implemented by two legal entities – GSK Pharmaceuticals and Consumer Healthcare), which in terms of total business in cash terms are among the top 3 foreign pharmaceutical companies in 2019, with more than 400 employees working in all regions.
LDaily: How does the situation in the Ukrainian pharmaceutical market differ from the situation in the world?
Y. Syrovatka: 2020 was a special year for all industries in all countries on the planet. In the global pharmaceutical industry, we can now note the expansion of the portfolio of drugs and growing demand for some groups of drugs in connection with the pandemic.
In 2020, total drug use in Ukraine (in the retail and hospital segments) increased by 11% in monetary terms and by 1% in physical terms compared to 2019 (according to Proxima Research International). In dollar terms, the market also showed growth of 6%. It should be noted that in 2020, one of the drivers of the market growth was the hospital segment, showing an increase of 35% in monetary terms and 50% in physical terms. In general, against the background of the pandemic, the market leaders in the growth rate of hospital supplies were the drugs of PBX groups J01 Antibiotics for systemic use, B01 Antithrombotic agents, D08 Antiseptics and disinfectants.
A feature of the Ukrainian pharmaceutical market is the dominance of the retail segment over the hospital segment, which occupies a share of 87% in cash equivalent, as well as 89% – in packaging (according to IQVIA). This means that the lion’s share of medicines Ukrainians buy in pharmacies at their own expense. Trends in the retail segment of the Ukrainian pharmaceutical market in 2020 most likely reflect the panic of the population due to coronavirus infection, the habit of self-medication and low public funding of the health care system (in particular, insufficient coverage of patients with drugs purchased at public expense).
Over the past few years, the most important initiatives to reform the health care system have been launched at the state level, which should have a positive impact on the civilized business development of pharmaceutical companies in Ukraine. This includes the introduction of a reimbursement program, and the reform of the system of procurement of medicines (hereinafter – drugs), and the implementation of a program of medical guarantees, approval of immunization strategy, and the possibility of using controlled access agreements for innovative products. GSK supports reforms, and we are pleased to contribute to the development of a progressive modern healthcare system in Ukraine for the benefit of patients.
LDaily: What measures do you take in the current market situation related to coronavirus?
Y. Syrovatka: The company’s activities in connection with the outbreak of coronavirus infection focus on three main areas: safety and health of employees, business continuity and strategic response to the global situation. From the very beginning of the pandemic, GSK has been actively researching ways to help using scientific developments and its own experience.
We still plan to supply Ukraine with modern medicines and vaccines for effective therapy and prevention of diseases. After all, no one has canceled other diseases, so people still need quality prevention and treatment. It is important to note that despite all the difficulties of operating in a pandemic, GSK continues to provide uninterrupted supplies of vital drugs and vaccines to Ukrainian patients. We maintain constant two-way communication with our employees, customers, partners in order to respond as quickly as possible to the constantly changing market situation and adapt all business processes to it.
LDaily: What are the company’s performance indicators for 2020? Was it successful for GSK?
Y. Syrovatka: Despite a difficult economic period, GSK continues to demonstrate stable performance, commercial efficiency, and competitiveness. We successfully implement long-term strategic priorities – Innovation, Effectiveness, and Trust. GSK Ukraine successfully completed 2020, reaching the planned financial indicators. GSK Pharmaceuticals Ukraine is among the top 10 foreign companies in terms of business in monetary terms, seeking leadership in the field of vaccines, as well as in the respiratory and anti-infective areas.
As for the main achievements of 2020, I would highlight the following initiatives:
GSK Ukraine was included in the list of the best employers in Ukraine in 2020 according to the Ukrainian Corporate Equality Index. The Modern Employer award is an important recognition of GSK’s efforts.