Program Reports: Dr. Paul Feldman – GlaxoSmithKline & Drug Discovery

Dr. Paul Feldman has lectured and published extensively across the global pharmaceutical industry.  As a senior vice president at GlaxoSmithKline’s RTP campus and site head, a spotlight comes with the turf.  But he conceded to being “especially nervous” after President Don introduced him as featured speaker at this week’s luncheon.  The Durham Rotary event, Feldman said, was the first time that his mother had seen him speak in public.  She was one of several guests presented by members at a nearly packed house.

At the end of Feldman’s presentation, both mom and club had a keen understanding of the enormous risks, challenges and opportunities facing GSK and the entire industry, and an equally keen understanding of the ways the industry improves life for people across the globe.

Locally, with more than 4,000 people employed, many of the company’s people are working in projects and partnerships aimed at improving education and health, as well as bolstering arts and culture and community affairs.  “We do write checks,” he said. “But we put our people into action, too.”

Up front, Feldman acknowledged that the company and the industry have endured recent bad publicity.  Headlines displayed as part of his presentation stemmed from settlements of missteps and drug recalls that have now been corrected.  “It’s not what GSK is today,” Feldman said. “We’re changing. We’re paying much closer attention to compliance.  We’re paying much more attention to selling priorities.”

Nobody said it was easy, and Feldman, in response to a question, said that the company business model is constantly changing in the face of continued challenges posed by evolving laws and regulations.  In all, it takes about 10 years and costs about $1 billion to move a drug from “discovery” through clinical trials, regulatory review and “scaling up” to manufacture before people can benefit from a new breakthrough and before investors can be compensated in return.  Today, the company’s entire strategic future focus is on access, quality and cost containment, Feldman said.

But when the drugs finally make it to market, the positive human impacts are inspiring.  Feldman showed slides recalling American teenager Ryan White’s widely publicized and ultimately terminal struggle with HIV contracted during a blood transfusion in the 1980’s.  By contrast, he pointed to basketball legend Magic Johnson’s success with HIV in the 1990’s, thanks to advances by the pharmaceutical industry.  He showed disturbing photographs of people in the developed world struggling with blinding water-born diseases such as “river virus,” and other maladies that deform an individual’s limbs that are carried by mosquitoes and insects.   “Our goal,” he said, “is to eradicate…”

He shared the story of an uncle who has lung cancer who never smoked. The uncle is living his final days in a higher quality of life, thanks to pharmaceutical advances just recently available.  The uncle is no longer coughing.  “He can go out dining,” Feldman said.  “And that’s what he enjoys doing.”

As the company works to tell its business story, its community efforts in the areas of education and health are especially important.  Feldman noted that 30 percent of high school students do not graduate.  He noted that the U.S.Ranks 25th globally in math skills, and 31st in science skills.  Seventeen percent of children are obese– a health-care “tsunami waiting to happen.”

GSK is partnering with organizations to promote healthier lives.  “Let’s get on the move,” Feldman said.


submitted by Mark Lazenby

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