‘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
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Night job: Pacha nightclub DJ, Joan Ribas, is the new kingmaker on the island
news
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family
film'I survived it, but I’ll never be the same,' says Arash Amel
Life and Style
Retailers should make good any consumer goods problems that occur within two years
tech(and what to do if you receive it)
Life and Style
healthIf one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
Life and Style
tech
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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer i...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada