GlaxoSmithKline is bringing science to London 2012
In 2009, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) was approached by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) to see if it would be interested in providing anti-doping services for London 2012.
Fast forward three years – the start of the Olympics is just two weeks away and GSK is the ‘Official Laboratory Services Provider’ to the biggest sporting event in the world. That means that GSK will work in partnership with King’s College London to operate a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accredited laboratory, where all the anti-doping services for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be carried out.
“King’s isproviding the scientific knowhow and GSK is providing the infrastructure to make it happen; the building, IT, recruitment, technology, and state-of-the-art equipment,” explains Kerry O’Callaghan, the head of GSK’s global brand communications and head of the team responsible for delivering its London 2012 partnership.
As the largest pharmaceutical company in the UK, for LOCOG to choose GSK as one of London 2012’s anti-doping providers seemed only natural. “We’re very used to operating on a mass scale; we have a high volume turnaround of highly sensitive and effective medicines. Whereas King’s would normally do about 6,000 drug tests a year, we have to do over 6,000 drug tests in just six weeks, so we are there to take their anti-doping expertise and scale it up into a mass operation.”
During Games time, 150 scientists will be working at the anti-doping lab, which is the size of seven tennis courts and based at one of GSK’s existing sites in Harlow, Essex. Literally thousands of samples will be analysed during London 2012, and the lab will be in operation 24 hours a day to make sure the Olympics are totally drug free and are as fair as possible.
WORLD ANTI-DOPING AGENCY
As well as providing first class laboratory services during the Olympics and Paralympics, just like LOCOG, GSK is keen to for London 2012 to leave a legacy behind it. The laboratory that GSK will operate during the Games will be accredited by WADA, but their relationship will continue long after this year’s sporting spectacle has come to an end.
In July 2011 the pair signed a historic long-term agreement, which will see GSK share information regarding any drugs that it has in early-stage development with WADA. “We will share with them the details or all our products in the pipeline, so if any of those have the potential for misuse by athletes in the future, WADA is already in a position to know what tests could be used to identify them,”O’Callaghan affirms.
Explaining what makes the partnership so groundbreaking, she continues: “We’re the first UK healthcare company to sign the agreement. Historically pharmaceutical companies have not been keen to share information about products that have not yet been launched, for obvious confidentiality reasons, and while there’s a strict confidentiality contract in place with WADA, we also want to be transparent and share any information that we have with relevant partners.
“What we’re looking to do is to say quite a bold statement about the sort of company that GSK is, what we stand for and what our ideals and values are. We want to show that we are putting our science to good use; it’s not just about profit making but it’s actually about genuinely enhancing the lives of people. In this case, society’s enjoyment – so that what you see at the Games in London this year is the result of pure athletic achievement and that’s really important.”
SCIENTISTS IN SPORT
Another initiative that has stemmed from GSK’s involvement in London 2012 is ‘Scientists in Sport’; an educational programme it launched in conjunction with King’s College, targeted at school children aged 11 to 14. The aim of Scientists in Sport is to inspire young people to pursue a career in science, using sport and the Olympics as a hook. Currently the initiative is only operating in the UK, but GSK has plans to roll this out on a wider scale in the future.
“As part of Scientists in Sport we have had local school children going to local universities and learning about sports science, meeting Olympic athletes and doing simple tests in a lab environment.
“We also ran a national competition where we got children to design a mobile drug testing kit. It showed an amazing degree of initiative and creativity, but also a really good level science. It’s a really great initiative, there’s been lots of excitement about it and certainly Scientists in Sport is a programme we will continue going forward. And it’s very important for GSK because we’re looking to inspire the scientists of the future by doing this sort of thing.”
AFTER THE GAMES
Of course GlaxoSmithKline will have its relationship with WADA and its Scientists in Sport initiative with King’s College to keep it occupied when the Olympics and Paralympics come to an end, but according to O’Callaghan, London 2012 is just the start.
“This is the first time GSK has done any sort of sponsorship at a global level, it’s the first time we’ve been involved in the Olympics and it’s the first time we’ve done drug testing. So there are lots of firsts but I have to say the response we’ve been receiving has been incredibly positive. It’s really opened our eyes up to the possibilities of what we can do with the global GSK brand.”
And finally, when asked why GSK was so keen to be involved in London 2012, O’Callaghan replied by saying: “I think the honest answer is that the Olympic and Paralympic Games is the greatest show on earth. They’re coming to London and it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to get involved. What we want to do is to make a material contribution to London 2012 to make it as successful as possible by maintaining the integrity of the Games and the health of the athletes.”
The challenges to vaccine distribution affecting everyone
While it is comforting to know that vaccines against COVID-19 are showing remarkable efficacy, the world still faces intractable challenges with vaccine distribution. Specifically, the sheer number of vaccines required and the complexity of global supply chains are sure to present problems we have neither experienced nor even imagined.
Current projections estimate that we could need 12-15 billion doses of vaccine, but the largest vaccine manufacturers produce less than half this volume in a year. To understand the scale of the problem, imagine stacking one billion pennies – you would have a stack that is 950 miles high. Now, think of that times ten. This is a massive problem that one nation can’t solve alone.
Even if we have a vaccine – can we make enough? Based on current projections, Pfizer expects to produce up to 1.3 billion doses this year. Moderna is working to expand its capacity to one billion units this year. Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, is likely to produce 60% of the 3 billion doses committed by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi. This leaves us about 7 billion doses short.
Expanding vaccine production for most regions in the world is complicated and time-consuming. Unlike many traditional manufacturing operations that can expand relatively quickly and with limited regulation, pharmaceutical production must meet current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) guidelines. So, not only does it take time to transition from R&D to commercial manufacturing, but it could also take an additional six months to achieve CGMP certification.
The problem becomes even more complex when considering the co-products required. Glass vials and syringes are just two of the most essential co-products needed to produce a vaccine. Last year, before COVID-19, global demand for glass vials was 12 billion. Even if it is safe to dispense ten doses per vial, there is certain to be significant pressure on world supply of the materials needed to package and distribute a vaccine.
It is imperative drug manufacturers and their raw material suppliers have clear visibility of production plans and raw material availability if there is any hope of optimizing scarce resources and maximising production yield.
It is widely known by now that temperature is a critical factor for the COVID-19 vaccine. Even the regions with the most developed logistics infrastructures and resources needed to support a cold-chain network are sure to struggle with distribution.
For the United States alone, State and local health agencies have determined distribution costs will exceed $8.4 billion, including $3 billion for workforce recruitment and training; $1.2 billion for cold-chain, $1 billion vaccination sites and $0.5 billion IT upgrades.
The complexity of the problem increases further when considering countries such as India that do not have cold-chain logistics networks that meet vaccine requirements. Despite India’s network of 28,000 cold-chain units, none are capable of transporting vaccines below -25°Celsius. While India’s Serum Institute has licensed to manufacture AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which can reportedly be stored in standard refrigerated environments, even a regular vaccine cold chain poses major challenges.
Furthermore, security will undoubtedly become a significant concern that global authorities must address with a coordinated solution. According to the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, theft and counterfeiting of pharmaceutical products rose nearly 70% over the past five years. As with any valuable and scarce product, counterfeits will emerge. Suppliers and producers are actively working on innovative approaches to limit black-market interference. Corning, for example, is equipping vials with black-light verification to curb counterfeiting.
Clearly, this is a global problem that will require an unprecedented level of collaboration and coordination.
Disconnected information systems
While it is unreasonable to expect every country around the world will suddenly adopt a standard technology that would provide immediate, accurate and available information for everyone, it is not unreasonable to think that we can align on a standard taxonomy that can serve as a Rosetta Stone for collaboration.
A shared view of the situation (inventory, raw materials, delivery, defects) will provide every nation with the necessary information to make life-saving decisions, such as resource pooling, stock allocations and population coverage.
By allowing one central authority, such as the World Health Organization, to organize and align global leaders to a single collaboration standard, such as GS1, and a standard sharing protocol, such as DSCSA, then every supply chain participant will have the ability to predict, plan and execute in a way that maximises global health.
Political influence and social equality
As if we don’t have enough stress and churn in today’s geopolitical environment, we must now include the challenge of “vaccine nationalism.” While this might not appear to be a supply chain problem, per se, it is a critical challenge that will hinge on supply chain capabilities.
In response to the critical supply issues the world experienced with SARS-CoV-2, the World Health Organization, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) formed Covax: a coalition dedicated to equitable distribution of 2 billion doses of approved vaccines to its 172 member countries. Covax is currently facilitating a purchasing pool and has made commitments to buy massive quantities of approved vaccines when they become available.
However, several political powerhouse countries, such as the United States and Russia, are not participating. Instead, they are striking bilateral deals with drug manufacturers – essentially, competing with the rest of the world to secure a national supply. Allocating scarce resources is never easy, but when availability could mean the difference between life and death, it becomes almost impossible.
Global production, distribution and social equality present dependent yet conflicting realities that will demand global supply chains provide complete transparency and an immutable chain of custody imperative to vaccine distribution.
The technology is available today – we just need to use it. We have the ability to track every batch, pallet, box, vile and dose along the supply chain. We have the ability to know with absolute certainty that the vaccine is approved, where and when it was manufactured, how it was handled and whether it was compromised at any point in the supply chain. Modern blockchain technologies should be applied so that every nation, institution, regulator, doctor and patient can have confidence in knowing that they are making an impact in eradicating COVID-19.