Patrick Vallance - GlaxoSmithKline

Driving open R&D globally

Name: Patrick Vallance
Title: President of pharma R&D, GSK

GlaxoSmithKline's recent pledge to open up its data for approved or failed drugs may prove to be a watershed event in the biopharma industry. And Patrick Vallance, Glaxo's president of pharma R&D, has made himself one of the most prominent advocates of a movement that is inevitably exerting tremendous pressure on its Big Pharma brethren to open up as well.

"We're increasingly realizing that the more you can make this an open enterprise, the more likely you are to be able to get an advance which allows you to make a medicine," Vallance told The New York Times last October.

Glaxo's pledge, though, has to do with more than just making fresh advances on the R&D front. It's no coincidence that the company has been anything but transparent about its data in the past, a trait that it shares with all the giants. Its decision to keep safety data on Avandia secret cost the company a massive $3 billion fine. As more than one research expert noted, Glaxo ($GSK) has been feeling the heat of blistering criticism for its past secretive ways. Bold action was required to help counter an increasingly dour public image, and Vallance has played a leading part in the drive to change the public's perception of GSK.

There's more to this than simple transparency, though. GSK has also been one of the charter Big Pharma advocates behind TransCelerate BioPharma, a move by the industry to find ways to eliminate some of the duplicative or wasteful measures undertaken by drug developers around the world. Monstrously expensive clinical trials are in no way good for the industry. Finding ways to collaborate can not only improve the prospects of advancing new drugs more quickly, it can also help reform the painful economics of drug research.

To that end, Vallance has also been one of the chief advocates of open R&D in the U.K., putting company scientists at work in an open lab environment with investigators at the University of Cambridge. Greater collaboration among scientists without requiring carefully tailored contracts on the IP involved is seen as an important new approach to break through the initial hurdle of early-stage research on the way to translating the effort into important new medicines.

Vallance and Glaxo will be watched like hawks as the doors to the data creak open to qualified investigators. And other companies will be asked time and again whether they will match the move to a more open R&D world. Vallance's work on this front could have a major impact on the industry.

It may be long overdue, but the pioneers on this front deserve recognition.

-- John Carroll (email | Twitter)

Patrick Vallance - GlaxoSmithKline