Fully Loaded With Nearly 500 Employees in Rockville, GlaxoSmithKline Chief Lays Out 2018 Goals


With one year of operations now under its belt since the grand opening, pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline has a bold future planned for its research and development facility in Maryland.

As the final page of the 2017 calendar gets ready to turn on a new year, GSK told the Washington Business Journal that it is revving up plans for vaccines development. The company will continue to focus on a shingles treatment, as well as develop vaccines for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a major cause of respiratory infections in young children and the elderly.  Rip Ballou, head of the Maryland R&D site for GSK, told the Journal that the next year is about “getting down to business and doing the work.”

The R&D site opened in December 2016. When it opened, GSK planned for it to be the company’s first fully dedicated vaccines R&D center located in the United States. The Rockville facility is one of three global vaccines R&D centers for GSK, which includes sites in Rixensart, Belgium and in Siena, Italy.

In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Shingrix, a non-live, recombinant subunit vaccine, for the prevention of shingles in adults aged 50 years and older. The vaccine was manufactured at the Rockville site and will be launched from there. The company will continue to work on the vaccine to treat people who have conditions that would compromise their immune system, the Journal reported.

A main priority for the R&D site will be its RSV vaccines. The company has an RSV vaccine for infants via maternal immunization in Phase II development that would be a competitor for an experimental Novavax RSV vaccine in late-stage development, the Journal noted. Additionally, the Journal said GSK is also developing an RSV vaccine for infants. That vaccine, currently in Phase II, could challenge MedImmune's Synagis, which generated $300 million for the company.

Another program highlighted in the Journal’s report is GSK’s emerging vaccine platform technologies, including an adenovirus program and “self-amplifying mRNA vaccine technology.” GSK is aiming for human trials using these technologies by 2018. Ballou said the products have performed well in animal models and the company will now focus on shifting that into human testing, the Journal noted.

With the new year on the horizon, the R&D site now employs about 500 people, which is nearly double the 280 employees it began with last year, according to the Journal.  Not only has the company rapidly expanded its employment, GSK has invested heavily in the Rockville site. In May, the company announced a $139 million investment into the property to support manufacturing efforts. The investment was made to support the growth of Benlysta, a treatment for adults with active, autoantibody-positive, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The $139 million investment will be used to grow internal capacity that is expected to increase bulk drug substance production by almost 50 percent at the facility.

In July, GSK Chief Executive Officer Emma Walmsley announced a major shakeup to the company’s R&D programming. The company said it will terminate more than 30 preclinical and clinical programs and allocate 80 percent of its research-and-development budget to respiratory and HIV/infectious diseases.  Additionally, the GSK plans to strengthen its oncology and immuno-inflammation areas. During a second quarter report, Walmsley pointed to the company’s pharmaceutical division as a catalyst for change. She said the company needs to pull full value from recent and upcoming product launches, make improvements in its cost base, and strengthen its pipeline.

Rockville is also the site of GSK’s proposed biopreparedness organization. The BPO a dedicated, permanent organization using a "no profit/no loss" model that will design and develop new vaccines  against emerging viruses, bacteria and other pathogens that potentially pose a threat to global public health.

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