GSK CEO Knighted

First of all, I wish all of you a very happy new year! The pharma industry and its workers have been through a lot of hardships in recent times with huge job losses, eroding profits and drying pipelines. A lot of gloomy predictions have been made about 2012 (including ongoing economic woes and the end of the world) but let’s hope that this year finally brings good times for pharma as it seems that the industry is well overdue for a successful year.

First of all, I wish all of you a very happy new year! The pharma industry and its workers have been through a lot of hardships in recent times with huge job losses, eroding profits and drying pipelines. A lot of gloomy predictions have been made about 2012 (including ongoing economic woes and the end of the world) but let’s hope that this year finally brings good times for pharma as it seems that the industry is well overdue for a successful year.

For Andrew Witty, the CEO of British pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline, the year is definitely off to a good start after he was knighted for services to the UK economy and pharmaceutical industry. Sir Andrew as he will now be known received the royal recognition in the UK’s 2012 New Year’s Honours List. Almost 1000 people received awards of varying kinds. 

This year, science and healthcare were well represented with other recipients of knighthoods including, among others, two physics professors, Professor Andre Konstantin Geim and Professor Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester, Professor Stephen Robert Bloom from Imperial College London for services to medical science, and Dr Venkatraman Ramakrishnan from the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology for services to molecular biology. Julie Moore, the chief executive of the University hospitals Birmingham NHS foundation was also made a dame. Varying awards were also given out to other researchers and other pahrmaceutical industry particiants, including Richard Barker, the former director general of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). There’s a full list available in The Telegraph

If you’re not familiar with the UK’s honours list, it’s a way of recognising merit, gallantry and service to the country. The lists are published twice a year at New Year and on the Queen’s official birthday in mid-June. The lists always comprises a number of film and sports celebrities, but it also reflects a range of skills and talents from across the UK.

The awards are also generally subject to a large amount of cynicism. For instance, The In Vivo Blog says, “Cynics may be suspicious of the timing of this flurry of biopharma-focused decorations. They came only a couple of weeks after the UK government outlined its new Life Sciences Strategy, in which much hope was placed on the sector helping to pull the UK economy out of the doldrums.”

I’ve also read some very cynical pieces that talk about the involvement of the British government in the honours process and the fact that Witty serves on an economic committee for the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron.

However, most of the negative attention on the honour’s list this year has focused on other award recipients, such as Paul Ruddock who received a knighthood for services to the arts for his work as chairman of the Victoria and Albert museum. Ruddock’s hedge fund management company Landsdowne Associates made around £100 million after betting on the collapse of the bank Northern Rock. News reports have also pointed out that Ruddock has donated nearly £500,000 to the Conservative party. Some scathing has also been directed at the knighting of Paul Bazalgette, a TV executive who brought Big Brother to the UK. 

As a blog on our sister site Pharmaceutical executive points out, Sir Andrew could be seen as a bit of a knight in shining armour compared with other names on the list! GSK has pledged loyalty to the UK economy and has also sought to help developing economies by improving access to medicines. He’s also looking at some innovative ways to improve the company’s R&D by partnering with the McLaren Group. The knighthood will certainly be a good thing for GSK’s reputation, which has taken a bit of battering in the last year. In 2011, the company had to pay £1.6 billion to settle litigation cases concerning Avandia, which has been banned in Europe, while in the US the company has agreed to pay $3 billion to settle investigations into the way the company marketed certain products.

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