* GSK links with Sanger Institute, European Bioinformatics
* New centre focused on target validation for new drugs
* Latest example of pre-competitive collaboration in R&D
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, March 27 GlaxoSmithKline is
linking with two top bioscience centres on an open-access
research project to tap into "big data" generated by gene
research, in a move highlighting how drug companies are learning
The new public-private Centre for Therapeutic Target
Validation (CTTV) is being created by GSK working alongside the
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the European Bioinformatics
Institute, both of which are based in Cambridge, England.
The three founders said on Thursday they hoped to attract
interest from other companies and academic institutions over
"I fully expect others to join," Patrick Vallance, GSK's
head of pharmaceuticals research and development, told Reuters.
"But it seemed sensible to get started right away rather than
spend two or three years trying to get lots of other people
Rapid advances in genome sequencing have led to almost daily
advances in understanding how genetics can affect disease
progression, creating a bewildering array of options for
developers of new drugs.
As a result, there is a growing trend among pharmaceutical
companies to become more open about sharing early-stage - or
pre-competitive - research work, rather than keeping their
science locked up behind high walls.
Ewan Birney, the interim head of the CTTV, said the
pre-competitive nature of the new centre was "critical" to its
The hope is that better target validation - which involves
defining the role of biological processes in diseases before
developing a new medicine - will improve success rates in the
high-cost world of drug discovery.
At present, some 90 percent of experimental compounds
entering clinical trials fail in those tests, often because the
basic biology is poorly understood.
That creates a big incentive for companies to work
collaboratively in the early stages of drug research, according
to Vallance, who believes there is still plenty of scope for
firms to differentiate themselves later on.
"If you can double the base knowledge then you've de-risked
things enormously, though you've still got to make your
judgement in your invention," he said. "It is not going to give
you all the answers but it is going to increase the chance of
getting it right."
Other pre-competitive collaborative ventures include the
Innovative Medicines Initiative, a European Union-backed project
to speed drug development, and the Structural Genomics
Consortium, which works on protein structures.
The CTTV project aims to address a wide range of human
diseases and will seek to publish important findings in
scientific journals, as well as routinely sharing gene sequence
data and information with the wider scientific community.
The venture will be supported by around 50 researchers drawn
from the three founding organisations and will be based on the
Wellcome Trust campus in Cambridge.
GSK is making a "multi-million pound" contribution to fund
initial projects. The company declined to be more specific on
how much money it was putting in.
(Editing by Anthony Barker)