GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is a pharmaceutical giant with operations in over 100 countries and a history which began in the 1840s. Its business is divided into three divisions: pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and consumer healthcare. GSK is the fourth largest pharmaceutical manufacturer and its consumer health division currently markets notable brands including AquaFresh toothpaste, Nicorette gum, and Excedrin pain relief.

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  • About GlaxoSmithKline
  • GlaxoSmithKline History
  • GlaxoSmithKline Products
  • GlaxoSmithKline Philanthropy
  • GlaxoSmithKline Misconduct

About GlaxoSmithKline

One of the most well-known manufacturers in the world, GlaxoSmithKline runs offices in more than 100 countries around the world. In 2018, it was ranked the fifth-largest pharmaceutical company in the world based on revenue of about $43 billion. GSK global headquarters are located in Brentford, England. GlaxoSmithKline’s U.S. headquarters is located are North Carolina.

GlaxoSmithKline History

GlaxoSmithKline was founded in 2000 after the merger of Glaxo Wellcome plc and SmithKline Beecham plc, each of which had a history of mergers.

Dating back centuries, the company’s roots began as early as 1715 when Plough Court pharmacy was opened in London and one of the apothecaries’ employees, William Allen went on to become a founding member of the Pharmaceutical Society in 1841. Allen’s nephews joined the company which in 1856, became known as “Allen & Hanburys”, eventually to be acquired by Glaxo.

In 1880 the establishment of Burroughs Wellcome & Company in London by two pharmacists, Henry Wellcome and Silas Burroughs.  Burroughs Wellcome ownership was transferred to the Wellcome Trust in 1936 upon the death of Henry Wellcome.

In 1904, a separate company, Joseph Nathan & Co., trademarked the name “Glaxo” for its dried milk product in New Zealand. In 1935, Glaxo became Glaxo Laboratories and opened units in London, acquiring Allen & Hanburys.

In 1830, Smith & Gilbert drug house opened in Philadelphia and by 1870 was being managed by a nephew, Mahlon Smith and the bookkeeper Maholon Kline which partnered to form Smith & Kline Co. They subsequently acquired French, Richards & Co. in 1891 to form Smith, Kline & French Company.

The Beecham Group was first founded in England in 1843 with the launch of Beecham’s Pills laxative. By 1900 Beecham was making over one million pills per day.  In the 1940s, Glaxo, Wellcome and Beecham were all involved in producing antibiotics for WWII and insulin production in parallel efforts but also including individual ventures in respiratory health, oral care and infectious diseases.

In 1982, Smith Kline & French merged with Beecham Group and the company renamed itself SmithKline Beecham in 1989. In 995, Glaxo acquired shares of the Wellcome Foundation which had been Burroughs Wellcome, to become Glaxo Wellcome.

Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham completed their merger in December of 2000 and have since expanded through acquisitions of CNS Inc., Block Drug, Stiefel Laboratories, Laboratories Phoenix, MaxiNutrition, GlycoVaxyn, CureVac and Human Genome Sciences.  GSK has divested or agreed to divest a number of products such as gene therapy drugs and novel vaccines.

In 2018, GSK announced an agreement to purchase Novartis’ stake in the consumer healthcare joint venture and reached an agreement with Pfizer to merge and combine the consumer healthcare divisions from both companies into a separate division. This is expected to split off, creating a separate consumer healthcare company.

GlaxoSmithKline Products

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is a manufacturing giant known for popular prescription medications, vaccines, and consumer health products.

Well-known prescription medications include products such as antidepressant, Paxil and antidiabetic, Avandia, along with dozens of other drugs including:

  • Imitrex (sumatriptan)
  • Levitra (vardenafil)
  • Augmentin (amoxicillin/clavulanate)
  • Avandia (rosiglitazone)
  • Avandamet (rosiglitazone/metformin)
  • Avandaryl (rosiglitazone/glimepiride)
  • Flovent (fluticasone)
  • Naramig (naratriptan)
  • Zantac (ranitidine)
  • Wellbutrin (bupropion)

GSK’s vaccine division distributes a reported 2 million vaccine doses every day around the world. They are one of only a few large-scale vaccine manufacturers and are involved in research and development of novel immunization, such as a new COVID vaccine under development.

Other vaccines currently include:

  • Ambirix (hepatitis A and B)
  • Bexsero (meningitis B)
  • Cervarix (hPv)
  • Fluarix/FluLaval (influenza)
  • Havrix (hepatitis A)
  • Encepur (tick encephalitis)
  • Hiberix (haemophilus B)
  • Mejugate (meningitis C)
  • Rabipur (rabies)
  • Rotarix (rotavirus)
  • Shingrix (zoster – shingles)
  • Varilrix (varicella zoster – chickenpox)

Along with other vaccines, including a number of multi-valent vaccines which contain 2, 3 or 4 antigens.

The company also markets consumer healthcare products such as Theraflu cold medicine, Sensodyne and AquaFresh toothpaste and Abreva cold sore treatment along with about 20 other products.

GlaxoSmithKline Philanthropy

GlaxoSmithKline is well-known for its philanthropy and charity efforts. In 2009, GlaxoSmithKline announced its plan to cut drug prices by 20 percent in 50 of the world’s poorest nations. The company also announced it would encourage new drug development by releasing rights to intellectual property into a patent pool. The released rights were aimed toward processes and substances that are relevant to neglected disease. Additionally, GlaxoSmithKline agreed to invest 20 percent of its profits from underdeveloped countries into the countries’ medical infrastructure.

GlaxoSmithKline joined forces with Pfizer, another of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. The two created ViiV Healthcare, which received all of the HIV assets of both companies. GlaxoSmithKline owns 85 percent of ViiV, while Pfizer owns the remaining 15 percent. GSK is currently first on the “Access to Medicines Index” and has been on the top of the list since its inception in 2008.

In 2010, GlaxoSmithKline donated 100 million albendazole tablets to treat lymphatic filariasis, or intestinal worms. The company also partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) to fight the condition. Additionally, GlaxoSmithKline distributes more than 2 million vaccination doses daily to more than 170 countries around the world with 70% of its vaccines going to “emerging markets”.

GlaxoSmithKline Misconduct

One of GlaxoSmithKline’s most infamous cases of misconduct is seen through its disregard for the deadly side effects of Avandia. Avandia was once the world’s leading drug for diabetes treatment. After the drug’s increased risk of heart attacks was revealed, annual sales plummeted from $3 billion to $1 billion. Shortly after, the sale of Avandia was restricted in the U.S. and suspended in Europe.

In 2010, GlaxoSmithKline paid a $750 million settlement for selling contaminated products. The products included Paxil, Avandia, and a baby ointment called Bactroban. The contaminated products were all manufactured in a plant in Puerto Rico. In 2009, the plant closed after failed attempts to fix the plant after an FDA investigation. Before it was shut down, the plant manufactured roughly $5.5 billion worth of products each year.

In 2012, GlaxoSmithKline was ordered to pay $3 billion for marketing misconduct over Paxil, Wellbutrin, Advair, and Avandia. The company marketed antidepressants Paxil and Wellbutrin for uses that were unapproved by the FDA. Paxil was marketed to teens and children despite FDA approval for adults only.

Wellbutrin was marketed to help patients with sexual dysfunction, weight loss, ADHD, and drug addiction despite FDA approval to treat only depression. GlaxoSmithKline was also charged with hiding knowledge of deadly side effects from diabetes drug Avandia. Studies show that Avandia can increase heart attack risk by up to 43 percent.

One billion dollars of the settlement went toward criminal fines and forfeitures, while $2 billion was paid for civil damages associated with other drugs. Additionally, GlaxoSmithKline agreed to undergo monitoring from government regulators for a total of five years.

Though the company has faced a number of lawsuits and claims of drug injury, few consumer medical lawsuits have resulted in settlements to consumers or patients.

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