By Allison Proffitt
January 25, 2010 | SINGAPORE—GlaxoSmithKline launched the GlaxoSmithKline-Singapore Academic Centre of Excellence (ACE) on Monday, with a two-day ACE symposium.
GSK conceptualized ACE in mid-2009 to be a virtual research network to establish collaborations on projects of mutual interest to GSK’s Discovery Performance Units (DPUs) and Singapore researchers. Areas of interest include oncology, ophthalmology, neuroscience and neurodegeneration, infectious diseases, metabolic pathways, regenerative medicine, respiratory, immuno-inflammation, genetics, and biopharmaceuticals.
The concept of academic partnerships plays a key role in GSK’s ongoing evolution as a company. “We don’t want to be blockbuster-dependent,” said Patrick Vallance, senior vice president of drug discovery, “though we are happy to be blockbuster-enabled.”
In lieu of waiting for the next big thing, though, GSK is implementing what Vallance called a different pharma model made up of flexible partnerships that could lead to biotech acquisitions; bringing in academia; academic DPUs; and open innovation.
ACE is an opportunity to set up small teams of drug discoverers, said Vallance. Not independent companies, but focused teams. They will be biotech-like, he said, but with the ability to access big resources.
GSK currently has a neuropathways research unit based in Singapore. Among the Singaporean institutions represented at the symposium were the National University of Singapore, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, SingHealth, A*STAR’s Biomedical Research Council, and the National Medical Research Council.
Potential projects could be upstream (e.g. target validation, biomarker discovery, identification of novel targets), or translational. ACE projects would not need to be confined to a specific therapeutic area, but would need to be aligned with GSK’s research focus in various therapeutic areas.
ACE projects would serve as an initial incubator for projects that were of researchers’ interests and could potentially carry through to a traditional academic collaboration in the future.
Both Singapore and GSK researchers can initiate collaboration conversations and proposals are submitted to GSK for approval.
Open Innovation Agenda
The ACE symposium in Singapore follows closely on last Wednesday’s announcement by Andrew Witty, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, of an open innovation strategy, much of which so far is targeted at developing drugs and a vaccine for malaria.
“We are calling this an open innovation strategy,” said Witty in a speech given at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The strategy has three components: greater flexibility around intellectual property, broad-based partnerships, and access to new compounds.
GSK announced last year that it would grant access to 800 patents and patent applications—a “patent pool”—to researchers working in the field of neglected tropical diseases in the Least Developed Countries. Alnylam has since contributed IP to the pool.
In order to build broad-based partnerships, GSK is rolling out the “Open Lab” in Tres Cantos, Spain, at its research center for diseases of the developing world. The concept includes “capacity for up to 60 independent researchers to come and pursue their own projects as part of a drug discovery team, allowing them to tap into our expertise, facilities, knowledge and industrial scale infrastructure,” explained Witty.
Finally, in order to increase access to compounds, “we have spent the last 12 months screening two million molecules in our compound library for reactions to the malaria parasite P. falciparum, the deadliest form of malaria found primarily in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Witty. The results were 13,500 hits that inhibited the parasite.
The compounds, their structures, and assay data will be made public, said Vallance on Monday, on a website in conjunction with the European Bioinformatics Institute. About 70% are public domain compounds while 30% were synthesized at GSK. Vallance said that synthesis information would be released for the GSK-synthesized compounds.