GSK sees 'modest' impact on trials, getting head down for 'busy few months' on COVID-19 work

GSK CSO Hal Barron
GSK Chief Scientific Officer Hal Barron (GSK)

GlaxoSmithKline is following suit with fellow British Big Pharma AstraZeneca in downplaying the overall risk to its trials during the pandemic.

AZ said in its financials this week that it wasn’t expecting much of a hit on its late-stage trials, many of which are focused around its checkpoint inhibitor cancer drug Imfinzi.

Now, GSK is saying it’s also confident it won’t be too hard done by in terms of trial delays, with Chief Scientific Officer Hal Barron saying in its first-quarter results this is due to “the ability for us to come up with somewhat novel ways of doing these trials, we're confident that the impact is modest.”

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But that doesn’t mean they have escaped completely from its effects. Barron and CEO Emma Walmsley said on a call with analysts that they foresee “one to three months delays for the vast majority” of its tests, with Barron adding: “Most programs continue to enroll, albeit some of them less robustly than had been previously anticipated … A few have been significantly impacted, more than that, and a couple have been terminated or put on pause.”

This comes as other pharmas, such as Eli Lilly and Pfizer, have had to stop or delay many of their tests amid the spread of COVID-19, although Pfizer this week said it had started opening up trials again.

One of GSK’s bigger tests will be its vaccine work against SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. GSK this month teamed up with Sanofi in an unprecedented venture between two rival pharmas in an effort to stop the spread of the disease while also teaming up with a host of other companies and organizations for the same goal.  

Roger Connor, president of GSK global vaccines, said coming together was vital to create a new inoculation. “Collaborations … are going to be key to, we think, finding a vaccine solution. We've got seven partnerships in place. And I think it's a busy few months ahead as we start to see the data readout in those various candidates,” he said on the Q&A section of its financial call Wednesday.

There are, however, concerns over the speed of development, notably about whether the company can effectively assess safety of these vaccines in such a tight time frame. Connor said: “In terms of the level of safety testing as well, that’s another regulatory discussion that we'll have as we look ahead at what are quite aggressive accelerated timelines of vaccine development compared to what would normally be considered.

“What I would say is, with our adjuvant technology, this is a proven adjuvant that has been used before in previous pandemics and has very strong patient safety data and history as well, which means we've got a proven track record here of a platform that can be used for a number of partnerships to develop vaccines going forward.”

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