GSK teams up with Doudna, putting CRISPR to work to find new drugs

GlaxoSmithKline is joining forces with the University of California to dig into how gene mutations cause disease and to use CRISPR to discover new drugs. The partners will set up a new laboratory near the UC San Francisco (UCSF) campus that will net up to $67 million in funding over five years.

The Laboratory for Genomics Research (LGR) is the brainchild of CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D., of UC Berkeley, Jonathan Weissman, Ph.D., whose work at UCSF includes CRISPR screening, and Hal Barron, M.D., GSK’s chief scientific officer and R&D chief. The lab will house 24 full-time UCSF employees as well as 14 GSK staffers who will focus on immunology, oncology and neuroscience. GSK’s artificial intelligence and machine learning teams will build the computational tools the lab needs to analyze the data its work will generate.

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CRISPR has gained prominence as a treatment in itself—editing genes has obvious applications in a range of diseases—but the LGR will develop CRISPR-based tools to study how small changes in a person’s genetic makeup can increase the risk of disease and to identify new drug targets.

“Ultimately the goal is to deepen our understanding of genetics and discover new targets, and to create next generation technologies that will become future standard practice for the pharmaceutical industry,” the British pharma said in a statement.

“Over the last seven years, CRISPR has transformed academic research, but until the LGR, we haven’t had a focused effort to catalyze the kind of research we know will lead to new innovation using this CRISPR tool,” Doudna said in the statement. “LGR is about building that space where creative science is partnered with the development of robust technology that will help develop tomorrow’s drugs. I think we’re going to be able to do science that none of us can even imagine today.”

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The new lab will also serve researchers at UC Berkeley and UCSF, who can use its technology to create their own tools exploring how genes work and to answer biological or biomedical questions in their own research.

“One of our key goals is to advance the field overall and make these tools as broadly available as possible. The LGR screening center will enable labs at UCSF and Berkeley, and having access to it will give our scientists opportunities to advance their research in ways that would be very hard for them to do in their own labs,” Weissman said.