Why not give the drug away? Well, it's costly to produce new medicines and Glaxo wants to recoup expenses. But GSK Chief Executive Andrew Witty argues that companies need an incentive to work in this field (tropical diseases or diseases of the poor) and that a small profit margin provides the needed incentive. Whether a 5% profit is enough of an incentive to get more companies to work in this area is an open question (though the potential of damage to what economists call "reputational capital" might well convince other drug companies to follow the GSK lead).
If field trials, which are being conducted now in Africa are successful, GSK will have the first malaria vaccine. Given that millions of people suffer from this disease, the drug has the potential to make an enormous difference in terms of human well-being (not to mention productivity for Africans and others). It also has the potential to make GSK a pretty penny, but less pretty than it might otherwise be. Witty says he'd like to see developed countries band together to buy the vaccine in large numbers for poorer countries: this might further lower costs--buying in very large volume should mean additional price discounts for the vaccine.
GSK, this story reports, is also opening up some of its laboratories to academic researchers. This kind of partnership should lead to further innovation and hopefully, more creative approaches to dealing with neglected diseases.
(The photo of the malaria mosquito is from the West Baton Rouge Parish website).