UnitedHealth Group made the announcement that its current president and CEO of Optum, its pharmacy benefit manager division, Andrew Witty, would take a temporary leave of absence to work with the WHO in countering COVID-19.
Witty will co-lead a global effort by the WHO to aid the development of a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, before returning to continue his role at UnitedHealth by ‘approximately’ the year’s end.
Prior to his role at UnitedHealth, Witty was the CEO of GSK, where he placed an emphasis on the company’s vaccines business, which included overseeing the takeover Novartis’ unit.
Under the leadership of current CEO, Emma Walmsley, the company has shifted its focus away from vaccines to oncology but is now finding its vaccine capabilities and expertise in demand.
As a result, GSK has struck up several partnerships to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, including a recent partnership deal with fellow pharma giant and vaccine specialist, Sanofi.
For Witty, the move to WHO marks a return to the area of vaccines, where David Wichmann, CEO of UnitedHealth, noted he had experienced ‘considerable success’.
One of the legacies that Witty left at GSK was the success it has seen with the Shingrix vaccine for shingles, which has achieved blockbuster sales.
Witty will join up with the WHO’s efforts on Monday of next week.
At the beginning of this week, the WHO announced that it had convened a group of experts working towards developing vaccines for the novel coronavirus.
At the time, the numerous signatories put their name to a statement, part of which read on the motivation and aim of the group: “We will continue efforts to strengthen the unprecedented worldwide collaboration, cooperation and sharing of data already underway. We believe these efforts will help reduce inefficiencies and duplication of effort, and we will work tenaciously to increase the likelihood that one or more safe and effective vaccines will soon be made available to all.”