GSK unveils ‘Big Data’ partnership in target validation

GlaxoSmithKline is to team up with two UK public research bodies to use ‘Big Data’ and genome sequencing to improve success rates in drug discovery.

The new Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation (CTTV) is just one of a new generation of public-private partnerships in drug discovery being set up across the world.

But the scale and depth of this collaboration, plus the cutting-edge expertise of the institutions could make the alliance very powerful, the partners proclaiming it to be ‘transformative.’

The new approach is aimed at moving away from the ‘shooting in the dark’ approach to identifying targets for drugs, which currently means most drug candidates fail in the early stages. Twinned with this is the huge volume of raw data emerging from genomic research, a challenge so big that working in isolation no longer makes sense.

The UK-headquartered firm is to work with the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI) and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute to create the new Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation (CTTV), and will share its data openly to accelerate drug discovery across a range of disease areas.

The partners say the alliance will capitalise on the almost daily advances in cutting-edge genetic research, which will help researchers in the crucial first step in exploring new medicines – finding where to start.

Ending 90% failure rate in target validation

Target validation involves defining the underlying biological processes which cause disease, but around 90% of compounds fail to meet safety and efficacy targets – often because the biological target for a drug is not well understood.

Dr Ewan Birney, Associate Director and Senior Scientist at EMBL-EBI, has been appointed as Interim Head of the CTTV. Dr Birney, is experienced in the field of genomics and bioinformatics, and will develop a programme to steer the research of the centre’s scientists.

“The Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation is a transformative collaboration to improve the process of discovering new medicines,” says Dr Birney. “The pre-competitive nature of the centre is critical: the collaboration of EMBL-EBI and the Sanger Institute with GSK allows us to make the most of commercial R&D practice, but the data and information will be available to everyone. It is truly exciting to apply so many different areas of expertise, from data integration to genomics, to the challenge of creating better medicines.”

CTTV scientists will combine their expertise to explore and interpret large volumes of data from genomics, proteomics, chemistry and disease biology. The new approach will complement existing methods of target validation, including analysis of published research on known biological processes, preclinical animal modelling and studying disease epidemiology.

This new collaboration draws on the diverse range of skills: the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute will contribute their knowledge of the role of genetics in health and disease and EMBL-EBI will provide bioinformatics-led insights on the data and integrate huge streams of different varieties of experimental data. GSK will contribute expertise in disease biology, translational medicine and drug discovery.

The new spirit of sharing drug discovery data

The new alliance is part of a movement across big pharma to open up drug discovery, and end wasteful duplication of effort. In the recent past, pharma jealously guarded all its pre-clinical data, fearful that future intellectual property might be compromised, but now the industry has been convinced that sharing data and collaboration in the ‘pre-competitive’ stages is the way forward.

This means that any data resulting from the new alliance will be shared publicly with the broader scientific community.

The CTTV will also seek publication of data and information arising from projects in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Once the centre is fully established, the collaborators will actively seek to attract new interest from other companies and academic institutions in the centre with the aim of expanding its activities.

The CTTV will be supported by up to 50 researchers drawn from the three founding organisations and will be based on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus near Cambridge, UK. Researchers will use EMBL-EBI’s Innovation and Translation suite, which received substantial support from the UK government in 2012, and the laboratories of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. The CTTV has been established with significant contributions of resource, skills and platform technologies from each of the three founding organisations and a multi-million pound contribution by GSK to fund an initial wave of projects.

Patrick Vallance, President of Pharmaceuticals R&D at GSK, says: “By changing our business model, taking a more open-minded approach to sharing information and forging collaborations like the Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation, we believe there is an opportunity to accelerate the development of innovative new medicines.

“The UK leads the fields of genome sequencing and bioinformatics and I am delighted that GSK has the opportunity to collaborate with two of its premier research institutions.”

Other public-private alliances

The new alliance mirrors other similar collaborations between pharma and public research organisations. One of the best established is that between the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and Novartis, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Among their many projects is one to decipher the genetic causes of type 2 diabetes, and like the new UK-based collaboration, these findings will be made publicly available.

Meanwhile AstraZeneca, the other major UK-headquartered pharma company, has just announced its own ‘Open Innovation’ initiative which shares access to existing compounds and validate new targets.


Lilly, Exosome Diagnostics enter biomarker discovery deal

AstraZeneca launches ‘Open Innovation’ initiative


Don't miss your daily pharmaphorum news.
SUBSCRIBE free here.