GlaxoSmithKline, University of Oxford join forces in $40M digital deep dive into neuro

Radcliffe Camera in Oxford, England, on a snowy day
(Jun via Flickr/CC-by-SA 2.0)

Major U.K. Big Pharma GlaxoSmithKline and leading academic center the University of Oxford have penned a new five-year research collab deal focused on making smarter bets on so-called “digital biology.”

That deal comes with a 30 million pound ($40 million) investment from GSK and a focus on neuroscience, including the research back holes of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, as the pair create a new institute to be based at Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine.

Known as the Oxford-GSK Institute of Molecular and Computational Medicine, the new hub wants to speed up the discovery and development of new drugs in tough areas, notably neuroscience, and will tap “insights from human genetics and using advanced technologies such as functional genomics and machine learning,” the pharma said in a statement.

Using genetic evidence has become all the rage in recent years as biopharmas look to cut costs and boost shots on goal. The new institute aims to build on this scientific progress and improve how diseases are understood by drawing on recent advances in pathology, including how to measure changes on cellular, protein or tissue levels.

Under the pact, scientists from GSK and Oxford will help prioritize those early R&D programs most likely to succeed and match them to patients most likely to respond. This builds on GSK’s in-house artificial intelligence and machine learning functions including its AI hub in central London.

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The focus will be on mechanisms for diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, frontal temporal dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and pain.

GSK and Oxford are “in active discussions regarding the nature of the first projects,” which are slated to start in the second half of next year. “A completely new way of collaborating will be established where research teams will have both GSK and University members, including secondments between both institutions,” the pharma added.

“We are delighted to be joining with the University of Oxford in this new collaboration,” said Emma Walmsley, CEO at GSK.

“By combining the strengths of our two scientific organisations and harnessing advanced technologies, the Oxford-GSK Institute exemplifies the UK’s track-record and continued ambition in life sciences. Together, our aim is to improve drug discovery and development to help bring new and better medicines for patients.”

GSK will hope to have the same success seen between its rival U.K. pharma AstraZeneca and its pact with Oxford, which saw the pair create the first non-mRNA vaccine for COVID last year.