By Julie Nixon
The third BioQuarter networking event provided us with another informative talk on the changing face of pharmaceutical R+D. Malcolm Skingle, Director of Academic Liaison at GlaxoSmithKline, described how GSK is actively developing new medicines through collaboration. Where Martin Mackay at the last BioQuarter networking event talked about why in house pharma R+D failed, Dr. Skingle gave a very upbeat overview of how collaborations in R+D, particularly with academia, have led to an “Innovation Ecosystem”.
GSK currently has research collaborations at 50 UK Universities encompassing areas such as respiratory diseases, immunological inflammatory disease and oncology. Collaborations for pharma companies allows harnessing other sources of funding, sharing risks and rewards, access to external knowledge and thinking and building global links. Dr. Skingle highlighted how much UK research benefits from Wellcome Trust funding in particular. GSK’s Discovery Partnerships with Academia has been a great success with academics brought on board with prospects of good scientific research, transparency in results and the ability to publish research. Prospective academic partners have to demonstrate a clear therapeutic hypothesis with a defined target, and a requirement for GSK contribution, such as access to GSK’s large scale protein production facilities. And where a resulting molecule does not fit with GSK’s business model, academics are free to exploit the resulting research.
A particular focus for GSK has been the desire to treat diseases in the developing world. One of the most significant initiatives has been the creation of the Tres Cantos Open Lab at GSK’s Tres Cantos Medicines Development Campus in Spain. Here scientists have the opportunity to pursue projects aligned with GSK’s interests in TB, malaria and other so called “neglected” diseases of the third world. For malaria alone 2 million compounds have been screened by five GSK scientists with 13500 possible hits deposited into the public domain. By allowing access to these compound libraries academics and other companies now have an opportunity to use GSK data to accelerate research into malarial drug targets. This type of “open innovation” strategy was unheard of previously, and will hopefully start a trend for other companies to allow access to their compound libraries for other diseases. Dr. Skingle believes that more science shared means more back from external sources.
GSK has acknowledged that no single company can retain all the capability to sustain the R+D chain. There are clear benefits to both pharma and researchers by partnering, and Malcolm Skingle clearly believes that despite the gloomy figures reported the trend for R+D, certainly at GSK, has taken an upturn with their open innovation strategy.