Andrew Witty - GlaxoSmithKline

Healing a Big Pharma's injured reputation

Name: Sir Andrew Witty
Title: CEO, GlaxoSmithKline

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) may have been rattled this summer by ethical challenges in China, but that hasn't stopped CEO Andrew Witty from continuing his quest for greater transparency--and leading a pack of Big Pharma peers down that same path.

Witty has been working for a long time now to correct Glaxo's reputation, which has been tarnished again and again over the years by marketing violations, patient lawsuits and, most recently, a bribery scandal. And his efforts have not gone unnoticed. Glaxo was one of the first companies to cut prices in the developing world, a model that other drugmakers have followed to both open up access to drugs and grab market share at the same time.

But Witty's most recent moves toward honesty and transparency have come against the backdrop of a Chinese bribery scandal worth close to $490 million, which some cite as evidence that his reforms are nothing but a bunch of hot air. But others have pointed to the company's admission that it breached the law--along with emerging markets chief Abbas Hussain's apology and the company's promise to take punishment in the form of price cuts--as a positive sign.

"I am personally very disappointed. They are shameful allegations," Witty said in July. "I remain strongly of the view that 99.9% of individuals in this organization are operating in the right way."

And since then, Witty has continued to take extra steps to ensure that they are, taking his own tack on marketing do's and don'ts, for one. Glaxo began limiting doctor payments in 2010, more recently tossing out prescription-based incentive pay for reps. By the time last December came around, GSK was scrapping some of pharma's most time-honored practices altogether. Higher script numbers no longer mean bonuses for reps, and the drug giant no longer pays doctors to promote its meds.

Witty has also taken the opportunity to spearhead the data transparency movement and continue to push it forward. Last year he followed up on his 2012 demands for change with a new online system that researchers could use to request data on Glaxo's approved drugs.

Many speculated that these moves would put pressure on Glaxo's fellow pharma giants to follow suit--and now, after a healthy wave of industry backlash, some of them have. Still, not all have gone as far as Glaxo; Sanofi ($SNY), for instance, recently agreed to open up data generated from 2014 onward, keeping past information under wraps.

"People say we only publish positive trials. No, we publish everything," Witty told The Guardian in 2012. "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."

-- Carly Helfand (email | Twitter)

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Andrew Witty - GlaxoSmithKline