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Four years into her effort to remake GlaxoSmithKline, the storied but long languishing British pharmaceutical giant, Walmsley faces her biggest test yet: a campaign, made public in May by the aggressive and much feared activist hedge fund, Elliott Management, to unseat her. So far, the CEO, who has the backing of her board and major shareholders, is standing firm—and moving forward on a strategy to turn the company into a drug- and vaccine-developing powerhouse (and deliver 10% growth in operating profits in the next five years). Walmsley plans to fund that effort, in part, by spinning off the company’s $12.9 billion consumer division—a portfolio of brands including Sensodyne, Advil, and Theraflu—where she cut her teeth at GSK. Results for the $21.9 billion pharma business are mixed so far: Though GSK notched some new approvals for use of its oncology drug Jemperli earlier this year, it also pulled the plug on two of its most hyped investigational cancer drugs in late-stage development. Walmsley still has a pipeline full of potential drugs and high-profile R&D partnerships to point to—like one with Crispr pioneer Jennifer Doudna’s company Mammoth Biosciences. GSK ranks first on the industry’s Access to Medicine Index, which measures drug affordability in low- and middle-income countries, and while late to the party, the three COVID vaccine candidates GSK is working on, not to mention its COVID antibody treatment, currently authorized for emergency use in the U.S. and Europe, may yet benefit many. Walmsley, who sits on the Microsoft board and was in 2020 appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire for her services to the pharmaceutical industry and business, also recently unveiled new climate commitments for GSK—for example, slashing the carbon footprint of its inhalers.


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