Tonight, the US media is awash with the story of pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline, fined three billion dollars for illegally promoting prescription drugs, failing to report safety data, bribing doctors (what’s new!), and pushing medicines for unlicensed purposes.
The US news media stressed that GlaxoSmithKline was a ‘British’ company, presumably in some weak attempt to take heat away from the US pharmaceutical industry. What, though, constitutes the Britishness of a company, that has operational sites in thirty-nine countries?
Its headquarters are in London, but this mega-huge multinational can hardly be termed ‘British’. Its roots go back to 1830, when American, John K Smith, opened a drugstore in Philadelphia with his younger brother, George. In 1865, they took on a bookkeeper, Mahlon Kline. Meanwhile, Joseph Nathan, a New Zealander, set up a company in Wellington, NZ, and began producing dried milk powder for babies. That company eventually became Glaxo.
Over the next hundred years, there followed a series of mergers and takeovers involving companies mostly from the US and UK, which resulted in the giant, GlaxoSmithKline..
While GSK has its global headquarters in London, its US HQ is in North Carolina, and its products division is in Pennsylvania.
The global pharmaceutical market is expected to reach a value of just under one trillion dollars ($929 billion) in 2012. GSK is now the biggest player in this field.
We all need our medicines, and GSK has grown fat by constantly reiterating that fact. Though, maybe it isn’t quite so factual after all.
As long ago as 2003, the ‘Independent’ newspaper was revealing this:
A senior executive with Britain’s biggest drugs company has admitted that most prescription medicines do not work on most people who take them.
Allen Roses, worldwide vice-president of genetics at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), said fewer than half of the patients prescribed some of the most expensive drugs actually derived any benefit from them.
It is an open secret within the drugs industry that most of its products are ineffective in most patients but this is the first time that such a senior drugs boss has gone public […]
“The vast majority of drugs – more than 90 per cent – only work in 30 or 50 per cent of the people,” Dr Roses said. “I wouldn’t say that most drugs don’t work. I would say that most drugs work in 30 to 50 per cent of people. Drugs out there on the market work, but they don’t work in everybody.” […]
“Roses is a smart guy and what he is saying will surprise the public but not his colleagues,” said one industry scientist. “He is a pioneer of a new culture within the drugs business based on using genes to test for who can benefit from a particular drug.”
Dr Roses has a formidable reputation in the field of “pharmacogenomics” – the application of human genetics to drug development – and his comments can be seen as an attempt to make the industry realise that its future rests on being able to target drugs to a smaller number of patients with specific genes.
The idea is to identify “responders” – people who benefit from the drug – with a simple and cheap genetic test that can be used to eliminate those non-responders who might benefit from another drug.
This goes against a marketing culture within the industry that has relied on selling as many drugs as possible to the widest number of patients – a culture that has made GSK one of the most profitable pharmaceuticals companies, but which has also meant that most of its drugs are at best useless, and even possibly dangerous, for many patients.” [italics added].
It seems that the ogre of Global Capitalism continues to rear its ugly, greed-infested, head at the expense of our health and well-being.
 “Our history” GSK.com
 “Glaxo chief: Our drugs do not work on most patients” Independent, December 8th 2003