GlaxoSmithKline's 'independent experts' start to hand out keys to its data vault

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) has set up a new online system that researchers can use to ask for the data on its approved therapies. Despite a major backlash in the industry, GSK has agreed to open up the data vault to investigators who intend to publish their findings, accelerating a move in the industry to provide greater transparency to the public. But the pharma giant's "independent experts" selected to run the program include at least two people with close ties to GSK.

Once approved, investigators will be given a password-protected account to access the data, which has been stripped of personal identification to protect the privacy of patients enrolled in its studies. And GSK is clearly eager to see more companies join the movement now that Roche has begun to adopt a somewhat similar model on transparency. And ideally an independent group can be formed to manage access for everyone in the industry.

"We are the first organization to develop a system for sharing detailed clinical data in this way," said GSK's Patrick Vallance. "Now we want to see this initiative transition to a broader independent model that brings together data from multiple organizations. We are keen for this to progress and hope such a system can be put in place by a third party in the public or charitable sector as soon as possible."

The program will be managed in the interim by a group of "independent experts," including Brian Strom at the University of Pennsylvania, Marc Buyse at Hasselt University Belgium and Bartha Maria Knoppers at McGill University in Canada. But it's hard to find any completely independent experts in this industry, as a quick Google search can attest. Strom, for example, received at least one $5,500 payment to consult for GSK, according to ProPublica's database. Buyse founded CluePoints, which markets a trial data assessment service that counts GSK as a major sponsor. A spokesperson for GSK points out to FierceBiotech, though, that they will only be involved until a third party organization is established.

Not everyone in the industry plans to open up. Just days ago AbbVie ($ABBV) and InterMune ($ITMN) won at least a temporary reprieve in their fight to stop the EMA from releasing trial data on their drugs. But the powerful agency is vowing to battle it out in court, insisting the pharma industry will benefit from a big dose of transparency. "If the court decides we have to stop the release of data, I think that would be the worst possible boomerang for the industry," EMA Executive Director Guido Rasi told Reuters in an interview. 

GlaxoSmithKline stepped up to lead the transparency movement after getting roasted by critics for keeping critical safety data under lock and key for years. But there are plenty of companies who see their data as proprietary information that would only benefit their competitors if it was available to the public.