Feature Interview

Andrew Witty: the acceptable face of big pharma?

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f1458 (Published 06 March 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f1458
  1. Rebecca Coombes, magazine editor
  1. 1 BMJ, London WC1H 9JR, UK
  1. rcoombes{at}bmjgroup.com

Following GlaxoSmithKline’s announcement that it will open up its research data, Rebecca Coombes spoke to the company’s chief executive, Andrew Witty, about how he is trying to change the company

Drug company bosses have a tough time getting positive headlines. As reputations go, they usually have to be content to rub shoulders with bankers and oil executives. So it was surprising that a member of this tribe was recently singled out for praise by one of the industry’s harshest critics.

In a spectacular public relations coup last month, Andrew Witty, chief executive officer of Britain’s biggest drug company, GlaxoSmithKline, announced the company was to make huge swathes of its research data public.1 By signing GSK up to AllTrials, the campaign that urges drug companies to disclose detailed clinical study reports as well as the results of all drug trials—not just the ones with favourable results—Witty seemed to be ushering in a glorious new era of openness.

Ben Goldacre, doctor, AllTrials campaign leader, and author of Bad Pharma, which fiercely critiques the industry, called it “a cartwheel moment.”

Back in October, Witty had also committed GSK to make anonymised patient level data from clinical trials available to researchers.

GSK badly needs this shot of good publicity: last year it was fined $3bn (£2bn; €2.3bn) in the United States for selling antidepressant drug paroxetine (Paxil) for unapproved use in children, concealing safety evidence from the Food and Drink Administration (FDA) on its leading diabetes product, and offering doctors lavish incentives to promote its medicines.2 More of this later, but the fine stands as the largest in US history for a drug company.

Fresh approach

At 48, Witty is on the young side to lead a multinational company, one with nearly 100 000 employees in more than 100 countries. He’s part of a …

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