Major boost for GSK CEO Emma Walmsley as the drugs company closes in on Covid shot
- The shot is being made with South Korean group SK Bioscience
- It will be rolled out worldwide next year if the study is successful
- The trial will be a major boost for Walmsley, who is fending off an aggressive campaign against her leadership from activist investor Elliott Advisors
CEO of GlaxoSmithkline, Emma Walmsley
GlaxoSmithkline has stepped up its battle against Covid as a vaccine it is co-developing entered final-stage clinical trials. The shot, which is being made with South Korean group SK Bioscience, will be rolled out worldwide next year if the study is successful.
The trial will be a major boost for chief executive Emma Walmsley, who is fending off an aggressive campaign against her leadership from activist investor Elliott Advisors. Walmsley, 52, is overseeing a split of the company’s biopharmaceuticals division and consumer arm into two separate firms.
But in April Elliott, which is co-chaired by Paul Singer, emerged as a major shareholder and has since called for an overhaul of the board and insisted that Walmsley (pictured) should reapply to be the head of the biopharmaceuticals company.
She insists she is a suitable boss and has previously said that although she is not a scientist, she is a business leader who could steer the company through the post-Covid era.
The mother-of-four’s background was in consumer businesses, including L’Oreal, before she joined. The company’s failure to launch a successful Covid jab so far, even though it is the world’s largest vaccine maker, has counted against her and put it behind rivals such as Astrazeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
The jab developed with SK Bioscience will be tested alongside Astrazeneca’s shot after it was decided it would be unethical to test it against a placebo at this stage in the pandemic. The treatment uses an active ingredient – called an ‘adjuvant’ – made by GSK, which increases the body’s response to the vaccine.
This means a less concentrated form of the vaccine can be used but have the same overall effect. In turn, this would allow more vaccines to be produced overall. If the jab is successful, it will be produced ‘at-scale worldwide’ through the UN’s Covax programme, which sends shots to low-income countries.
Thomas Breuer, the firm’s chief global health officer, said: ‘While many countries have made good progress with vaccination, there remains a need for accessible and affordable Covid-19 vaccines to ensure equitable access and to protect people across the world.’ The company’s shares fell 0.9pc, or 13.6p, to 1462p last night.