New frontiers of innovation are creating major opportunities for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) – and for patients

As a global healthcare company, the biggest contribution GSK believes it can make to society is using its scientific and technical know-how to address health needs globally.

Motivation 

As a global healthcare company, the biggest contribution GSK believe  they can make to society is using their scientific and technical know-how to address health needs globally.

Discovering and developing new medicines is impactful and exciting but is lengthy, high risk, and incredibly difficult. GSK’s goal is to harness technological developments, including genome engineering and informatics to improve their success rate in developing innovative new medicines for patients, and to drive their business forward.

Currently, across the industry almost 90% of medicines entering clinical trials fail and never reach patients. (Nature Biotechnology 32, 40–51 (2014)). The vast majority of potential medicines fall by the wayside because the industry has not had the right information and tools to properly understand the link between the biological process in the body that drugs are targeting and the disease they want to treat.

But that is beginning to change, driven by advances that are allowing scientists to map and better understand our genes and what they tell us about our body – and why we get ill. By harnessing new technologies to study the genetic profiles of patients with disease, scientists are improving the probability of developing safe and effective medicines, and improving research and development productivity.

Act and impact

In recent years, approximately 60% of GSK’s new drug targets have been supported by human genetic evidence. Pursuing drug targets with human genetic evidence is estimated to double the probability of developing medicines that will be safe and efficacious enough to help patients. (ref Nelson et al. (2015) Nat Genet 47:846-60)
Collaborations remain key to their innovation. They recently joined forces with two external companies to harness artificial intelligence (AI): Exscientia a UK specialist in machine-learning; and Insilico Medicine,a US leader in AI-led drug discovery.

As part of a public-private partnership called Open Targets, they’ve launched an open access “Google”-type search engine that extensively searches, evaluates and integrates the mountain of genetic and biological data available about drug targets associated with disease. GSK believe that harnessing the potential of “big data” and genome sequencing through these collaborations could help them dramatically improve their success rate for discovering new medicines.

GSK was one of the first companies to make a multi-million-pound investment in UK Biobank  to begin the generation of new genetic sequencing data to deliver insights into why some people are at greater risk of disease. The information generated from this ground-breaking health resource of half a million volunteers will provide vital insights that they hope will inform and support the development of transformative medicines.

GSK co-founded the private-public Accelerating Therapies for Opportunities in Medicine (ATOM) consortium, based in the US and are actively working to reduce the timelines for pre-clinical cancer drug discovery, using supercomputers to analyse data from failed R&D programmes with the aim of finding patterns and vital clues to aid successful future development.

GSK are also maximising the huge amount of data held internally by applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to allow them to identify patterns that would have been almost impossible to identify using traditional methods. They can now model the right patient population and where to find them for their clinical trials, reduce or eliminate the need for some studies, and in some cases predict outcomes in a virtual patient.

Next Steps

GSK believe we are we’re entering a new era of drug discovery because of a fundamental change in our understanding of human biology. These rapid advances in technology are enabling the emergence of a wave of exciting new therapies. This includes medicines that could fundamentally alter the course of – and in some cases, offer the potential to cure – disease.