GlaxoSmithKline, Sanford Burnham launch neuroscience hub

Brain imaging

Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute and London’s GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) have teamed up to launch a new “SBP-GSK Center for Translational Neuroscience.”

The new center, located on the medical research Institute’s campus in La Jolla, CA will bring together staff from Sanford Burnham and GSK to investigate factors that influence brain function and potentially reverse or slow down neurodegeneration--such as that seen in dementia--with the ultimate aim of finding new drug targets.

The two already have history, as SBP’s CEO Perry Nisen used to be senior VP of science and innovation at GSK. Nisen’s move in 2014 was in fact the start of the Institute’s new strategy to become the “partner of choice” for drugmakers as it looks to move more deeply in drug discovery. It has also in the past two years signed research deals with Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Daiichi Sankyo.

This also fits in with GSK’s “R&D Satellite” hub in La Jolla, which was set up last year with the intent to find, fund and fuel scientific research that will lead to new and innovative medicines for patients. The Satellite focuses on creating and nurturing collaborative relationships in San Diego and all along the West coast’s vibrant academic, biotech and venture communities.

Under the new 3-year agreement, GSK will provide funding to create and support a research laboratory. Staffed by SBP scientists, postdoctoral candidates and technicians working alongside neuroscientists from GSK, the center will be designed to bolster research dedicated to translational neuroscience. Financial details were not disclosed.

The number of people living with dementia worldwide is set to triple by 2050 to 135 million--yet there are currently no medicines that can prevent or cure this common disorder, with many other neurodegenerative conditions having the same drug drought.

Development of new medicines to treat these conditions is particularly challenging--only 8% of experimental treatments for neurological conditions that reach the testing stage in humans ever become an approved medicine, according to GSK.

The aim of the new SBP-GSK Center for Translational Neuroscience is to increase this success rate, primarily by improving the translation of disease biology to drug discovery through a successful collaboration that drives synergistic innovation.

“Neurodegeneration is one of the most important and challenging areas for science and medicine," said Nisen. “This unique alliance provides an opportunity to combine the complementary expertise of our institutions to address one of the greatest unmet needs of our society today.”

Any new breakthrough drug that could stop or reverse dementia would likely prove a major blockbuster but neuroscience R&D--notably the research on dementia and Alzheimer’s as well as Parkinson’s--has seen something of an exodus by pharma in recent years, given the high failure rate and lack of returns.

GSK and others, including AstraZeneca ($AZN) and Novartis ($NVS), have either pulled way back or completely out of the field since 2010. In fact, back in 2011 GSK announced it was to shrink its work in the neuroscience field, costing about 50 R&D jobs in the U.S.

But where pharma has moved away, smaller biotechs and academic/charity research groups have stepped in, and now seemingly pharma is a looking like it may take a step back toward the field--if it can share the risk. This can be see with last year’s gene therapy deal between Sanofi ($SNY) and upstart Voyager Therapeutics, and today’s tie-up between GSK and SBP.

Min Li, SVP and global head of neurosciences at GSK, added: “Rapid advances in science are characterized by both a deeper understanding of a specific topic and an awareness of the convergence across different, but related areas.

“Neurodegenerative diseases cross many fields of science, and this partnership takes full advantage of the depth and breadth in expertise both organizations bring to the table. Joining with a top-tier academic institution like SBP located in a high-density area of talent and elite research will also enhance our agility, enable us to move projects forward rapidly, and further support the discovery of new medicines for neurodegenerative diseases.”

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