GlaxoSmithKline joins a biotech brain trust to make R&D more efficient

Thanks to the genomics revolution, scientists are awash in data on biological functions large and small, but translating all that information into verifiable drug targets has proven to be no easy task. Now, in an effort to bend the curve toward R&D success, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) is teaming up with external experts, putting up money and brainpower to launch a collaborative research effort.

It's well known that the vast majority of drug development projects fail before making their way to patients, and a great many are doomed from the outset thanks to poor understandings of the biological processes that cause diseases in the first place, according to GSK. To help make sure its future endeavors get off to the very best start, the company is joining the European Bioinformatics Institute and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute to launch the Center for Therapeutic Target Validation (CTTV), a collaborative effort with hopes of improving target validation in early R&D.

CTTV will launch with about 50 scientists from all three organizations, combing through data from genomics, proteomics, chemistry and biology to better map out the roots of disease. Sanger's experts will lend their expertise in genetics, while the European Bioinformatics Institute is on tap to crunch the numbers, and GSK has promised to share its vast experience in translational medicine and drug discovery. The pharma giant isn't disclosing its financial commitment to the center beyond saying it's "a multimillion-pound contribution."

And, in keeping with GSK's penchant for open science, CTTV's founders have all vowed to share any and all of their discoveries, deeming their work precompetitive and planning to recruit other research institutions and drug developers to join the effort.

"Our ambition on this is very simple," said Lon Cardon, GSK's senior vice president of alternative discovery and development. "Improve the selection of targets we pursue and therefore improve the attrition rate and make better medicines in the end. Annotation and validation of human targets is a good thing for drug discovery broadly, and it's not an area in which we aim to compete--we want to compete on making medicines."

The effort is much like the National Institutes of Health-sponsored Accelerating Medicines Partnership--in which GSK and 9 of the world's largest drug developers have agreed to share data on discovery-stage projects--but with a more expansive aim, Cardon said. Instead of limiting its scope to predefined targets, CTTV has the green light to fan out across the scope of human disease, and Cardon believes the center's combination of expertise will boost its output above the sum of its parts.

"We're trying to foster an ecosystem where we get that communication and true collaboration between the drug discovery world and the basic science world," Cardon said. "There's expertise that's not in GSK that we need to harness and access, and we think we can put that together through this center."

European Bioinformatics Institute Associate Director Ewan Birney has signed on to serve as interim head of CTTV, which will settle in at the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus near Cambridge, U.K. Birney, tasked with developing a work program and steering the center's first projects, said CTTV's combination of talent "allows us to make the most of commercial R&D practice, but the data and information will be available to everyone."

- read the announcement