GlaxoSmithKline mounts an open casting call for R&D starlets

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) is looking for some new partners in academia, launching a contest for would-be collaborators with early-stage projects that could translate into marketable medicines.

The U.K. drugmaker is now accepting proposals for its third annual Discovery Fast Track Challenge, asking scientists in Europe, Canada and the U.S. to send in pitches for how their discovery-stage idea could blossom into a clinical program. GSK plans to pick as many as 12 winners from the pool, inviting their inventors to screen each target against the company's extensive compound library. If there's a hit, GSK could offer winners a collaboration deal through its Discovery Partnerships with Academia (DPAc) program, moving forward together after ironing out terms.

"Winning ideas are translated into a high throughput screen to identify tool compounds for additional proof-of-concept studies," DPAc head Carolyn Buser said in a statement. "Pending the results and the interests from both academia and GSK, the collaboration may be extended to a long-term partnership to jointly develop therapeutics for the benefit of patients worldwide."

Since its launch in 2013, the program has elicited some intellectual property concerns from potential academic partners worried that vague wording in GSK's terms could let the pharma giant pilfer proprietary work. The contest has no up-front contract negotiations, which doesn't jibe with some schools' policies on collaboration. But skipping that initial negotiation phase is what allows Discovery Fast Track to work nimbly, the company argues. Under the early agreements, both parties agree to hold off on IP claims until after the screening, waiting until they have a definite candidate before working out how to share the potential benefits.

The program has drawn more than 500 proposals since it got off the ground, GSK said, attracting the attention of more than 300 universities, research outfits and hospitals in Europe and North America. Among the success stories, according to the company, is a winning idea from Canada's Université de Sherbrooke applying to iron overload disorder. The project, picked in 2013, went from the earliest stages to discovery in less than a year, GSK said.

GSK is accepting proposals through April 24, and potential partners can submit them on the Discovery Fast Track site. A panel of company experts will pick as many as 30 finalists from the group, inviting them to present their proposals in person before making final selections.

- read the announcement

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