GSK's new Boston collaboration chief goes 'anti-pharma' as he prowls for partners

In his new office on Kendall Square in Cambridge, MA, Jason Gardner is, by his own calculation, within easy walking distance of some 500 scientific groups engaged in work that might interest GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK). And he plans to do a lot of walking in the coming months.

GSK vet Gardner is the newly named vice president for R&D in the greater Boston area, in charge of a small but growing team of specialists at a brand-new satellite facility that will help coordinate not only the 25-or-so ongoing scientific collaborations with groups such as the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, but also biotech partnerships with the likes of Epizyme. He's also tasked with growing that number, in a selective fashion.

Jason Gardner

"We are actively looking for new collaborations," says Gardner, who's scouting for prospects with strong science and solid business prospects. Right now, there are 6 people in the Kendall Square satellite, which is equipped with the kind of high-tech, high-bandwidth video connections that can hook up locals with GSK execs and scientists around the world. By the end of this year, he says, there should be about a dozen as the team is rounded out. GSK scientists, meanwhile, will be making regular appearances as a kind of guest team member, sussing out what the local scientific community has to offer. And the group will also work with a research facility that GSK operates in Waltham.

GSK's satellite office in Boston is matched by another team in San Diego, which has similar plans. And it's not far from the model that J&J ($JNJ) has set up with innovation centers around the world, which Merck ($MRK) has promised to put in place as well. For Gardner, the new job and home base represent something of a homecoming. He was a research fellow at Harvard after landing his PhD at Oxford.

The Boston area in general, and Kendall Square in Cambridge in specific, has one of the perfect local biotech "ecosystems" for this kind of hunt-and-partner approach to drug collaborations. In addition to the scientific groups, there's a rich base of biotechs, experienced entrepreneurs and venture groups at work in the vicinity. The money men and women include the execs at GSK's SR One, a venture arm which has been busy in this area for years.

"In a way, this is anti-pharma," says Gardner, "small and external facing," as opposed to big and internally fixated. By its nature, he adds, most of the work will be focused on early-stage endeavors, though there's likely to be some clinical-stage activities that get his attention as well.

Gardner will be joining a panel of development experts discussing largely late-stage clinical trial trends in FierceBiotech's final executive panel discussion of the year on October 21. We'll be focusing on some of the most innovative trends in Phase III drug development, with a special focus on improving efficiency and containing costs. James Burns, Sanofi's ($SNY) local R&D chief, and Vertex ($VRTX) Chief Medical Officer Jeffrey Chodakewitz will also be on hand to discuss. I'll post a link to the sign-up page soon. -- John Carroll (email | Twitter)