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GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) can trace its roots back to a small apothecary in 18th Century London. Through multiple corporate mergers, GSK found its current form in 2001. It is well-known for its asthma inhalers like Advair and Breo. But it is infamous for a bribing scandal in China. The company has also battled lawsuits that blame its products for injuries.

GlaxoSmithKline is a Big Pharma corporation. It sits at No. 194 on Forbes’ list of the 2,000 largest companies in the world.

The British pharmaceutical company is well-known for its respiratory products like Advair and Ventolin.

But GSK has faced allegations of unethical and unsafe business practices. Some of its former employees were criminally prosecuted on two different continents.

Some of GSK’s popular pharmaceuticals have harmed patients. Injuries led to product liability lawsuits.

About GlaxoSmithKline

GlaxoSmithKline is a global health care company with headquarters in Brentford, London.

Emma Walmsley is GSK’s CEO. She is the first woman to be chief executive of a major pharmaceutical corporation.

Total revenues for GSK reached $30.2 billion pounds in 2017. This equates to $40.4 billion in U.S. currency.

GSK employs nearly 100,000 people in over 150 countries. Its U.S. headquarters are in Philadelphia. GSK has a separate research facility in North Carolina.

GlaxoSmithKline History

GlaxoSmithKline started in 1715 as Plough Court pharmacy, a small apothecary shop in London. GSK evolved through a series of mergers over two centuries.

GSK Timeline
  • 1830
    Smith & Gilbert drug house opened in Philadelphia. (Mahlon Kline later joined the entity.)
  • 1842
    Thomas Beecham started Beecham’s Pills in England.
  • 1856
    Plough Court pharmacy took on the name Allen & Hanburys.
  • 1880
    American pharmacists Henry Wellcome and Silas Burroughs started Burroughs Wellcome & Company in London.
  • 1958
    Glaxo Laboratories acquired Allen & Hanburys.
  • 1989
    SmithKline Beckman and the Beecham Group merged to form SmithKline Beecham.
  • 1995
    Glaxo and Wellcome merged.
  • 2001
    SmithKline Beecham and Glaxo Wellcome merged in a $75.7 billion stock deal. This gave GlaxoSmithKline its official start.

GlaxoSmithKline Products

GSK focuses on vaccines, pharmaceutical drugs and consumer health care products. It sold 798 million doses of vaccines in 2017.

GSK is the maker of the industry’s broadest range of inhaled respiratory products. These include Advair, Ventolin and Breo Ellipta. The products are the company’s biggest moneymaker.

The company has also partnered with Pfizer and Shionogi to form a global HIV business, ViiV Healthcare. The business accounts for more than 20 percent of GlaxoSmithKline’s pharmaceutical sales.

Popular GSK Pharmaceuticals, Vaccines & Consumer Products
Inhaled asthma/COPD medication (combination steroid and bronchodilator)
SSRI antidepressant
Type 2 diabetes medicine
Inhaled corticosteroids
Antihistamine that blocks stomach acid
Anti-nausea medication
Cold and flu medicine
Gum and lozenges to aid in smoking cessation
Pain reliever for headaches and migraines
Skin cream to treat cold sores or fever blisters
Seasonal flu vaccines
Rotavirus vaccine
Hepatitis A and B vaccine
Meningitis B vaccine
Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccine
Meningitis ACWY vaccine
Meningitis C vaccine
Measles, mumps and rubella vaccine

GlaxoSmithKline Lawsuits and Settlements

GlaxoSmithKline has faced a number of product liability lawsuits. Patients filing lawsuits accuse the company of manufacturing dangerous or defective products.

Personal Injury Lawsuits Against GSK



Suicidal thoughts and birth defects

Notable Verdicts

  • 2009
    Philadelphia jurors awarded $2.5 million in a Paxil lawsuit filed by the family of a 3-year-old born with severe heart malformations.
  • 2017
    Chicago jurors ordered GSK to pay $3 million to the widow of a corporate attorney who killed himself after taking a generic version of Paxil not made by GSK.

Notable Settlements

  • 2006
    GSK settled thousands of addiction claims for a total of $160 million.
  • 2010
    GSK settled Paxil and pregnancy claims for $1.14 billion.
  • 2016
    GSK paid $6.2 million to settle a Canada class action lawsuit involving 50 mothers and their children.



Strokes, heart attacks and heart failure

Notable Settlements

  • 2010
    GSK settled over 10,000 Avandia lawsuits for more than $500 million.
  • 2011
    GSK agreed to pay $250 million to settle 5,500 death and injury claims.
  • 2011
    GSK set aside $6.4 billion for future lawsuits and settlements.



Birth defects

Lawsuit Status

GSK faced 445 Zofran lawsuits in May 2018.

Fraud, Misbranding & Failure to Report Safety Data

In 2012, GlaxoSmithKline pleaded guilty to federal criminal offenses. The company’s crimes included misbranding of its antidepressants Paxil and Wellbutrin. GSK also failed to report safety data to the FDA about its diabetes drug Avandia.

GSK admitted to illegally promoting Paxil for treatment of depression in children.

The company reached a civil settlement with the U.S. federal government in which it agreed to pay a fine of $3 billion.

The plea represented the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history. It resolved allegations of pricing fraud.

GSK reached a related civil settlement with the U.S. Justice Department. It resolved allegations of improper marketing of Advair and Zofran.

GlaxoSmithKline Drug Recalls

GlaxoSmithKline recalled some of its products for defects, possible tampering and reduced effectiveness. Products affected include consumer weight loss products, vaccines and albuterol inhalers.

Recent GSK recalls
Date Drug/Device/Vaccine Units Reason
2018 Ventolin and Seretide 200,000 Possible damaged foil strip containing medication inside the device resulting in reduced number of doses delivered by the inhaler
2017 Ventolin 600,000 Leak in the propellant that delivers the medicine resulting in a smaller dose of medication than indicated
2017 Menveo Meningococcal vaccine Lot M16095 only (5 doses – 10 vials – per package) Precautionary; the batch was subject to mechanical intervention during sanitary filling operations not supported by validation data
2015 Flulaval Quadrivalent Thimerosal-free Pre-Filled Syringes (PFS) flu vaccine All remaining 2014-2015 doses Potential for reduced effectiveness due to a decrease in vaccine strength prior to its expiration date found through routine testing
2015 Ventolin HFA More than 128,000 Defective delivery system resulting in less than 200 doses
2014 Alli weight loss products From all U.S. and Puerto Rico retailers Some of the packages were tampered with and may contain product that is not alli

GlaxoSmithKline Scandal

A Chinese court ordered GlaxoSmithKline to pay $492 million in 2014. The fine resolved charges of bribing doctors in China to use GSK products. It was the biggest penalty ever imposed by a Chinese court.

The court sentenced Briton Mark Reilly to four years in prison. He was the company’s British executive for China. Four other Chinese employees received the same punishment.

But the employees may never serve prison time. The court postponed the sentences. Reilly was deported.

In February 2018, GSK was still answering to fraud investigators in its home country.

glaxosmithkline logo
GlaxoSmithKline Facts
  1. Established December 2000
  2. Headquarters Brentford, London
  3. Size 99,300 (2016)
  4. 2017 Revenue $30.2 billion (U.K.) or $40.4 billion (U.S.)
  5. Subsidiaries Stiefel Laboratories

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.

Kristin Compton
Written By Kristin Compton Writer

Kristin Compton's background is in legal studies. She worked as a paralegal before joining Drugwatch as a writer and researcher. She was also a member of the National Association of Legal Assistants. A mother and longtime patient, she has firsthand experience of the harmful effects prescription drugs can have on women and their children. Some of her qualifications include:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Legal Studies | Pre-Law from University of West Florida
  • Past employment with The Health Law Firm and Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin, McLeod & Thompson LLC
  • Personal experience battling severe food allergies, asthma and high-risk pregnancies
Edited By
Emily Miller
Emily Miller Managing Editor

23 Cited Research Articles writers follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, court records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and interviews with qualified experts. Review our editorial policy to learn more about our process for producing accurate, current and balanced content.

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