One of the most well-known manufacturers in the world, GlaxoSmithKline is based in Brentford, England and U.S. headquarters in Durham, North Carolina. It has offices in more than 100 countries around the world and employs about 90,000 people. In 2021, it was ranked the tenth-largest pharmaceutical company in the world based on revenue of about $46 billion.
Though the company has produced many successful medications, including multiple blockbuster drugs, it has also faced multiple drug injury lawsuits and other legal challenges over marketing practices.
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. 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.
Separately, 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 1995, 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. In 2022, this division was split off into separate companies, GSK, and the healthcare unit to be known as Haleon.
GSK has also announced plans to acquire Sierra Oncology and Affinivax for cancer and vaccine pipeline medications. In May 2022, GlaxoSmithKline officially changed their name to GSK.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is known for legacy medicines, popular prescription medications and vaccines . The current product listing includes medications to treat asthma, cancer, lupus, HIV, and vaccines.
Well-known prescription medications have included products such as antidepressant, Paxil and antidiabetic, Avandia, along with dozens of other drugs including:
- Imitrex (sumatriptan)
- Dyazide (hydrochlorothiazide/triamterene)
- Levitra (vardenafil)
- Augmentin (amoxicillin/clavulanate)
- Avandia (rosiglitazone)
- Avandamet (rosiglitazone/metformin)
- Avandaryl (rosiglitazone/glimepiride)
- Flovent (fluticasone)
- Naramig (naratriptan)
- Zantac (ranitidine)
- Requip (ropinirole)
- Serevent (salmeterol)
- Lamictal (lamotirigine)
- Wellbutrin (bupropion)
- Advair (salmeterol/fluticasone)
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 immunizations, along with other vaccines, including a number of multi-valent vaccines which contain 2, 3 or 4 antigens.
Currently marketed vaccine products include:
Twinrix (hepatitis A and B)
- Bexsero (meningitis B)
- Cervarix (hPv)
- Menveo (meningitis ACWY)
- Rabavert (rabies)
- Rotarix (rotavirus)
- Shingrix (zoster – shingles)
- Boostrix / Infanrix (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis vaccine)
- Engerix-B (hepatitis B vaccine)
- Fluarix / FluLaval (seasonal influenzas)
- Hiberix (haemophilus B, tetanus toxoid vaccine)
- Havrix (hepatitis A vaccine)
- Kinrix (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliovirus vaccine)
- Pediarix (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliovirus, hepatitis B vaccine)
GlaxoSmithKline is well-known for its philanthropy and charity efforts reaching back to the beginnings of each company. In 2009, GSK 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”.
One of GlaxoSmithKline’s most infamous cases of misconduct involved disregard for the deadly side effects of Avandia. Avandia was once the world’s leading drug for diabetes treatment, but GSK may have concealed heart side effect information. 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.
GlaxoSmithKline Marketing Misconduct
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, along with other medications including Advair, Flovent, Zofran, Imitrex, Lotronex, and Valtrex 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. The company was accused of hiding knowledge of deadly side effects from diabetes drug Avandia even though studies showed 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 including charges of defrauding the Medicaid Rebate Drug Program and paying kickbacks to doctors. Additionally, as part of the settlement agreement, 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 of these medical liability lawsuits have resulted in settlements to consumers, patients, or their family members.
Notwithstanding claims relating to this product, the drug/medical device remains approved by the U.S. FDA.
- Antidepressant Paxil-Warnings, Citizens Commission on Human Rights International (05/2013)
- Drug Giant Glaxo Pleads Guilty, Fined $3B for Drug Marketing, USA Today (07/2012)
- Paxil Birth Defect Litigation – First Trial a Bust for Glaxo, The Public Record (03/2010)
- About Us, GSK (2022)
- Products, GSK (2022)