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When a company is manufacturing critical need medicines and popular consumer products, how does it address increasing access to innovative products while managing its energy use?

On the launch of the GlaxoSmithKline’s 2012 Corporate Responsibility Report – a comprehensive read at 75 pages – I caught up with Director for Global Corporate Responsibility Clare Griffin for some updates.

Looking Ahead: GSK Switches Focus

For the first time the report, while focusing on the company’s 2012 performance, also includes a set of 23 forward-looking commitments across GSK’s business. The first thing that caught my eye in the report was the framework used to connect the firm’s vision with its business mission, assets, purpose and bottom line [see below]. How did the team use this chart to define CR’s focus at GSK?

“Lots of companies say they don’t have separate CR strategies; that they are completely embedded, etc. But how can you demonstrate that integration? This chart, for us, is a good way of explaining how CR is interwoven into our business. We have our business assets, our people, our priorities, our values, which leads us to create innovative products and drive access where people need it the most,” she explained.

“That’s the vision we want to create. We believe that if responsibility is absolutely integral to how we do business, we will deliver sustainable business growth for shareholders and benefits for our other stakeholders,” she added.

It’s all interrelated.

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“For example, in the world’s poorest countries, our Developing Countries and Market Access (DCMA) operating unit has a clear objective to increase access to medicines and vaccines, while expanding our market presence and ensuring our business is sustainable for the long-term. This model is increasing our volume sales while increasing access to essential medicines and vaccines.”

Transparency, Pricing & Carbon: Challenges Ahead

“We will see through the implementation of our commitments on transparency of clinical trials data, continue with our commitments on pricing, and look to further harness manufacturing technologies to improve our carbon footprint,” writes GSK CEO Andrew Witty in the report.

Lots of promises in that one statement, I asked. How will these be implemented?

“We have a pretty diverse product line. Although pharmaceuticals are the majority, we also produce vaccines and consumer healthcare products. To improve our carbon emissions, we first invested in mapping our carbon footprint. For example, we found out that Amoxicillin, a very popular antibiotic, is Horlicksthe third-largest contributor to our carbon emissions due to the manufacturing process,” she said. “Our green chemistry team in Singapore has found a different way to produce Amoxicillin through using an enzyme instead which will cut carbon emissions from this process by 36,000 tonnes and reduce waste by 2,400 tonnes as well.”

Similarly with Horlicks, a popular malted milk drink: “We are working to further enhance an Indian government program aimed at modernizing milk production, and looking at introducing alternative energy generation, for example low-carbon biomass energy generation using waste wood to replace coal. Essentially, we are focusing on where we believe we can have the biggest impact,” she added.

Creating Access: Sharing Data From Clinical Trials

As for the transparency piece, while GSK has shared the summary results of all of its clinical trials – whether positive or negative – on a website accessible to all since 2004, the firm has committed to going further and now making anonymized patient-level data available to researchers.

“We’re setting up an independent panel which will review each request to make sure it is appropriate and will be using the data for valid scientific reasons. We also want the researchers to share their results back with the scientific community. We hope this initiative will be of value in developing and catalyzing a wider approach in the industry,” she explained.

Ethical Standards: Reinstating a Culture of Responsibility

Our discussion would not have been complete without taking into account, GSK’s rough tidings last year with the U.S. government. With the firm having to pay $3 billion to the U.S. government to settle allegations of unethical misconduct – failure to include information, etc. – in its sales and marketing practices around drugs Paxil and Avandia, several questions arose about the company’s corporate governance, accountability and sales practices – how do you move forward, I asked.

The company has taken significant steps to move beyond that, responded Griffin. “We have implemented a new incentive compensation system (Patient First) for our professional sales representatives who work directly with healthcare professionals in the U.S. The new system eliminates individual sales targets for these representatives as a basis for bonuses, and instead bases compensation primarily on sales competency, customer evaluations and the overall performance of their business unit,” she said.

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The company has also brought together different Codes of Practices across regions and business units to create one Global Code and introduced standards that reinforce clear distinction between scientific dialogue and promotional activities. “These new standards govern the way we engage in scientific activities, such as advisory boards, publications, scientific congresses and medical education,” she said.

Other steps: A Corporate Ethics and Compliance Program for all employees, strengthened training programs, setting up an anti-bribery and corruption initiative and setting in motion disciplinary actions when needed.

“The 23 forward-looking commitments cut across the four areas of GSK’s responsibility: Health for all, Our behavior, Our People and Our Planet. It was important that we picked a time frame that is close enough that the current cadre of employees will be the people delivering the commitments while giving us enough time to create sustained change,” Griffin emphasized, alluding to the firm’s 2015 and 2020 goals.

Goals & Commitments: Highlights from 2012

So what were some of the year’s highlights for GSK?

  • The potential to bring around 15 new medicines and vaccines to patients over the next three years
  • 3.5 million pounds invested in R&D
  • 5 million pounds invested in the Tres Cantos Open Lab Foundation in Spain to fund research on solutions for diseases in the developed world
  • A concentrated focus on creating access, including monitoring the influential Access to Medicine Index, that measures what pharmaceuticals are doing to bring more medicines to more people [GSK won the top spot for the third time in 2012 although Griffin was quick to point out that “the index is a measure of what we’re doing, not the reason why we’re doing it.”]
  • A number of commitments around transparency established in 2012 including participating in the All-Trials Initiative, marking the next level of details on releasing results of GSK’s clinical trials.

What’s next?

“In 2013 we will continue to focus on innovation, access, and operating with transparency across the business. Specifically we will work to see through the implementation of our commitments on transparency of clinical trials data, continue with our commitments on pricing, and look to further harness manufacturing technologies to improve our carbon footprint,” finished Griffin.

Originally written for and published on CSRwire’s Commentary section Talkback onApril 16, 2013.