GSK takes aim at CNS diseases with University of Oxford partnership

UNITED KINGDOM – GSK and Oxford have launched a five-year collaboration aimed at accelerating R&D breakthroughs in a variety of difficult-to-treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s through the use of genomic testing and machine learning, the partners announced.

The Oxford-GSK Institute of Molecular and Computational Medicine will be based at the university and will be funded in seed funding from GSK with 30 million pounds (approximately US$40 million) and rely on in-house technology developed at both the drug giant and Oxford.

GSK and Oxford claim that by incorporating machine learning into the mix, they will be able to shorten development times while also opening up new pathways of care.

The institute, according to the partners, will use genomic data, machine learning, and other technologies to better understand how diseases work and design new treatments for them.

The new research center aims to develop medicines more quickly and with greater success, with an initial focus on brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

The collaboration will seek to capitalize on advances in proteomics and genetic screening to both identify new disease predictors and identify patients who are most likely to benefit from treatment to help guide that effort.

The first projects of the institute are expected to begin in the second half of 2022. Furthermore, the institute would like to have some evidence that its medicines work as intended earlier in the research and development process.

With a “rich pipeline” of potential targets already identified, GSK believes it has a head start on getting the institute up and running quickly.

Meanwhile, the partners will enlist the help of outside experts as part of a new fellowship program that will seek out five mid-career researchers to serve as project principal investigators.

According to a press release, the institute will have a presence at Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine and will collaborate closely with other departments at the university, including the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics and the Big Data Institute.

The first projects in this collaboration are expected to begin in the second half of 2022, with research teams from GSK and Oxford sharing experts.

John Todd, director of the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics, and Tony Wood, GSK’s SVP of medicinal science and technology, are among the planned institute’s directors.

Challenging venture

Brain and central nervous system diseases have long been notoriously difficult to treat, even for the world’s largest and most well-resourced pharmaceutical companies.

However, in recent years, researchers, aided by technologies such as genetic sequencing and machine learning, have learned more about how these diseases work and potential treatments.

In the case of ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, scientists have identified more than 50 genes that appear to have some effect on the disease.

Many companies, including GSK, that had previously backed away or never invested significantly in the development of brain drugs have begun to reverse their positions in light of these advances.

Though it was the company behind Paxil, a blockbuster drug for mood disorders, GSK hasn’t made neuroscience a priority in a long time, preferring to focus on cancer, infectious diseases, and respiratory illnesses.

GSK, on the other hand, signed a deal in July with Alector, a US-based biotech that is attempting to use the immune system to combat neurodegeneration.

GSK acquired the rights to two of Alector’s experimental drugs designed to boost a protein that regulates certain essential functions in the central nervous system in exchange for US$700 million.

One of the drugs is being tested against a rare form of dementia, while the other is intended to treat more common diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

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