Will GlaxoSmithKline's transparency pledge force pharma rivals to open up?

Stung by intense criticism of its past penchant for secrecy and data manipulation, GlaxoSmithKline CEO Andrew Witty today took the transparency pledge, vowing to shine a light on all trial results--good and bad--while welcoming outside investigators into its data vaults and offering up some 200 potential tuberculosis-fighting compounds for public use.

GSK ($GSK) has already posted a summary of the results from 4,500 trials on a public web site. Now an independent group will be given the authority to provide access to all the data it has on its drugs, whether the data supports the drug or not, to approved researchers to help in the pursuit of new therapies and better understand approved drugs.

Three years after it offered up its compound library for malaria, GSK is now doing the same on tuberculosis. After screening two million compounds for TB inhibitors, about 200 showed signs of potential. And researchers outside the company can now start testing to see which might be able to halt an epidemic of new cases.

This isn't the first step in this direction for Witty, but it's a bold move and one of the most high-profile demands for change the industry has seen. And it's likely to increase the pressure on other pharma companies to do the same. But Witty knows that after years of punishing fines and public accusations that the company hid the dangers spurred by its drugs, polishing the company's rep won't come easy.

"We've done an awful lot around this area but I think it's still fair to say that not everybody believes that everything is made public," Witty told The Guardian. "Even things we do all the time we're criticized for not doing. People say we only publish positive trials. No, we publish everything. But the fact that people don't know or haven't yet accepted that we have this real commitment to transparency--we've got to keep working harder to get that message across."    

GlaxoSmithKline recently agreed to a $3 billion settlement with the feds over charges that included the claim that it hid safety data on one of its blockbuster drugs. But some high-profile investigators heralded today's announcement, encouraged that the company has vowed to turn a new leaf and hopeful that its rivals will now be forced to follow suit.

"This is a reason to celebrate a company stepping forward to make a public commitment to sharing their data at the individual patient level and fostering open science," Yale cardiologist and transparency advocate Dr. Harlan M. Krumholz told The New York Times. "The hope is that it would make it untenable for other companies not to follow suit."

That's the hope. The reality is that Pfizer ($PFE), Merck ($MRK), Eli Lilly ($LLY) and others are likely to be extraordinarily reluctant to follow GSK's lead.

On Twitter this morning, John LaMattina, the former research chief for Pfizer, said the pharma companies would be wise to match GSK's pledge. And in response to a query from me about a greater perceived reluctance among U.S. giants than European companies, he added: "I think that Big Pharma is one world. If GSK is being more transparent, it behooves MRK, PFE, etc., to do the same."  

- here's the press release
- read the article from The Guardian
- get The New York Times story

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