The World Health Organization says countries have agreed on a deal to share flu virus samples after almost four years of fractious talks on the issue, and GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK) has endorsed the agreement.

The WHO says diplomats haggled through the night before reaching agreement early Saturday.
“This framework agreement is a critical step in ensuring that the world, including developing countries, is able to prepare properly and equitably for any future pandemic. I applaud the leadership of the WHO,” said GSK Chief Executive Officer Andrew Witty. “Member States and industry have demonstrated a shared commitment to addressing global needs and an ability to work together and compromise.”
The deal must still be approved at the WHO’s annual meeting in Geneva next month.
Developing countries had for years refused to freely share samples of viruses such as bird flu because they claimed drug companies would profit from vaccines their own citizens wouldn’t be able to afford.
The deal foresees that drug companies either share the vaccine formula or reserve some of their vaccine production for poor countries in case of a future pandemic.
GSK, one of the world’s largest drug manufacturers which has made pandemic vaccines, said it “welcomes the agreement … to support global preparedness for a future influenza pandemic.”
“The agreement establishes the principles of an improved process for influenza virus and benefit-sharing between the WHO GISN (Global Influenza Surveillance Network) and industry,” GSK said. “The agreement will mean that companies supplying vaccines, antivirals and diagnostics for influenza will become key stakeholders in the WHO GISN, which tracks the development and movement of influenza viruses globally. Industry will increase its financial contribution to the GISN to enable the network’s geographical expansion and support technical improvements that will accelerate the start of vaccine production, enabling industry to deliver seasonal and pandemic influenza vaccines more quickly.”

GSK employs some 4,000 people at its U.S. headquarters in RTP.

Novartis is building a large manufacturing plant for pandemic vaccine production in Holly Springs.

For the full GSK statement, read here.

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