GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has reformulated its Corsodyl mouthwash to develop an antiseptic gel. This gel has the ability to prevent umbilical cord infections in newborn babies and could hence save thousands of baby lives.
The gel, which is called Umbipro, was developed in partnership with the charity Save the Children. It is aimed at developing countries and according to UN estimates could save 422,000 lives over five years. It will be sold at a not-for-profit price and is designed to withstand both hot and humid conditions without the need for refrigeration.
On 29 April, the gel managed to get the green light from European Medicines Agency. This is one of the first approvals required to get any medicine into developing countries. However, the gel still needs to get approvals from local regulators at all the various countries where it intends to enter into. GSK said it would apply for these local approvals in countries with moderate to high neonatal mortality rates.
Once the local approvals are in place, the British pharmaceutical company plans to make about six million units initially. They will come in single-use foil sachets that can conveniently be opened without the need for scissors. GSK added it was willing to share its knowledge of this product with other interested companies.
The gel has taken the company four years to develop. The efforts were led by Dr Pauline Williams, a senior GSK scientist at GSK's UK research and development centre in Stevenage, a town and borough in Hertfordshire, England.
She came up with the idea in 2012 after reading a United Nations report which identified chlorhexidine as a forgotten "life-saving commodity". The report said this agent had the potential to save baby lives if made available across poor parts of Africa and Asia. Williams then realised that chlorhexidine was being used in its mouthwash brand Corsodyl.
"It's been a great example of bringing together expertise and resources from across the company to work on something that can make a big difference to public health," Williams said.