‘Public-private’ deal heralds revolution in search for new drug treatments

GlaxoSmithKline and non-profit institutes hope to fast-track research into cures using patient DNA

Science Editor

Britain’s biggest drug company has signed a pioneering deal with two public research institutes to develop new medicines based on patient DNA in the hope of discovering lucrative treatments for a range of illnesses with a genetic basis, from cancer to heart disease.

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has promised to publicly release any early research findings for free in return for the expertise and help offered by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, where the human genome was decoded, and the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI), both based on the same campus in Cambridge.

The aim of the unique collaboration is to identify potential targets in the body for new drugs based on an analysis of the huge volumes of data generated by the human genome and similar studies into complex biological molecules such as proteins and peptides.

In return for its investment, GSK hopes to steal a march on its competitors by identifying targets early enough for it to develop drugs that have less risk of failure at the early stages of clinical trials, said Ewan Birney, associate director of the EBI and the interim head of the new Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation.

“This is about enlightened self-interest. They are funding public research to do the groundwork in the earliest stage of drug discovery. They really want to change the game for this early part of the drug-discovery process,” Dr Birney said.

“They are backing themselves that they can do the next phase and find the right drug that works better than anyone else. They realised that some things are better solved in the public domain,” he said.

One of the preconditions of the collaboration is that the research findings will be freely available, but GSK can direct the research towards areas where the company already has a commercial interest, Dr Birney said.

It is estimated that about nine out of 10 potential new drugs fail when they enter clinical trials even though they have shown promise in the laboratory and in animal trials. 

Another problem is that even many licensed drugs do not work on all potential patients - some people do not respond because of their genetic makeup. It is one of the best-kept secrets of the pharmaceuticals industry that most of the drugs it makes do not work on most of the patients they are designed for.

“We are interested in knowing the proteins to target for drugs. In the case of responders and non-responders, were interested really in the new proteins in the non-responders which look like the right ones to target,” Dr Birney said.

The Sanger Institute is a world leader in decoding and analysing genome data while the EBI’s area of expertise is handling the huge volume of data generated by genome science, as well as new research in proteomics (proteins science), biochemistry and the biological basis of disease.

The centre will be built on the same site in Cambridge where the Sanger Institute is based and will initially employ about 50 researchers.

Patrick Vallance, president of pharmaceuticals research and development at GSK, said that by changing its business model and sharing information in a collaborative way, the company hopes to accelerate the development of new medicines.

“Target validation is one of the greatest challenges in drug discovery. We need to understand better the mechanisms in our body related to disease to improve how we can develop the most effective mechanisms,” Dr Vallance said.

Professor Sir Mike Stratton, director of the Sanger Institute, said: “Advances in genomics have led to a rapid increase in the availability of drug targets, providing enormous opportunity but also posing the problem of how we best convert this knowledge into medicines.

“The challenge we now address it to identify those new targets with the greatest relevance to human disease which, in turn, will undoubtedly increase the speed and efficiency in which new medicines can be developed.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Voices
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
voices
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living