Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of Local Tech Wire and business editor of WRAL.com.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Despite challenging economic times and a rapidly changing pharmaceutical industry, (NYSE: GSK) is expanding its effort to support the global fight against lymphatic filariasis, which is also called elephantiasis.

Even as GSK prepares for more layoffs and fights negative publicity from the U.S. Senate about its diabetes drug Avandia, the global drug giant found more resources to commit to the fight against this disfiguring disease.

GSK Chief Executive Officer Andrew Witty said Monday that a new production facility in Nashik, India, would be used to produce treatments for the disease. The drug, albendazole, is donated by GSK to the World Health organization’s “Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis.”

“This is a significant scale up for our manufacturing capability for the drug,” GSK spokesperson Sarah Alspach told Local Tech Wire and WRAL.com. “In 2008, we distributed 266 albendazole million tablets in 30 countries. This new plant is capable of producing 300 million tablets a year.

“All the product will be donated,” she added. GSK values the donation at $13.5 million.

The move is the latest in a series of efforts by GSK in broadening its commitments to the Third World under Witty, who has been in the CEO spot for some two years. ()

GSK, which maintains its U.S. headquarters in RTP, transferred equipment from South Africa and is investing $300,000 in the plant. The drug also will continue to be made in South Africa, Alspach added.

The campaign launched to eliminate the disease was launched in 2000. Its goal is to eliminate the disease by 2020.

Elephantiasis is a parasitic infection that is spread by mosquitoes.

“In its most obvious manifestations, lymphatic filariasis causes enlargement of the entire leg or arm, the genitals, vulva and breasts,” “In endemic communities, 10-50 percent of men and up to 10 women of women can be affected. The psychological and social stigma associated with these aspects of the disease are immense. In addition, even more common than the overt abnormalities is hidden, internal damage to the kidneys and lymphatic system caused by the filariae.”

According to GSK, the global effort represents “the largest donation program in the history of the global pharmaceutical industry.”

“Thirty years ago, scientific breakthroughs led to the eradication of smallpox. Today we have hope that another disease, lymphatic filariasis, can be consigned to the history books,” Witty said in a statement.

“Promising new data show that the simplicity of the WHO’s disease elimination program is working,” he added. “Through this investment in India we are able to focus on one of the largest areas at risk from LF and support the Indian Government’s current efforts to control and eliminate this crippling tropical disease.”

According to Witty, the program has enabled treatment of 570 million people across 48 countries.

The Nashik facility began production of albendazole on Dec. 23.

For more about GSK’s to fight lymphatic filariasis,

Here’s a tip of the hat from The Skinny to GSK for its support of a fight that needs to be won.

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