Scientists from the new Francis Crick Institute will join forces with GlaxoSmithKline in the hunt for new medicines, in the first big public-private partnership for the £700m research centre being built at King’s Cross, London.
The alliance will explore new approaches to medical research and early-stage drug discovery to tackle a range of diseases.
Scientists from both partners will work together in laboratories at the Crick and at GSK’s research and development centre in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.
“We’re trying to become more effective in translating the early scientific discoveries in which Britain excels into innovations that help society and drive the economy,” said Sir Paul Nurse, Crick chief executive. “This has been a constant problem in past decades.”
Under their agreement, GSK and the Crick will each contribute an initial 10 scientists as well as lab space to the partnership, which is expected to involve 10 to 15 research projects. GSK will also open its library of 2m compounds, currently not in commercial development, to Crick scientists.
Once it is fully operational next year, the Crick institute will be one of the biggest biomedical research centres in the world. Named after the scientist who, with James Watson, discovered the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953, it will employ 1,250 scientists.
Funding will come from the government’s Medical Research Council, the charities Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust, and London’s three top research universities: Imperial, UCL and King’s.
Patrick Vallance, president of pharmaceuticals research and development at GSK, said industry collaboration with the Crick would help produce advances in the understanding of human diseases that would ultimately make it easier to produce new medicines.
David Roblin, chief operating officer at the Crick, said that while GSK was a natural first partner because of its big role in the UK life sciences industry, alliances would follow with other companies, big and small.
“We aim to have industrial scientists embedded in our laboratories and fully integrated with our scientific groups,” he added.
All research carried out with GSK and others would be “in the spirit of open innovation”, with findings shared with the scientific community via peer-reviewed publications.
Sir Paul said Crick researchers would benefit from industry’s expertise in translating early-stage science into medical breakthroughs, while industry would gain new insights into disease pathways and drug targets.
“Applying science for the public good usually means working with industry,” he added.
The GSK-Crick alliance fits a trend towards more collaborative research by the pharmaceuticals industry, as drugmakers move away from industrial-scale in-house R&D operations in favour of working with academia and smaller biotech companies.
In a separate partnership to be announced this week, GSK will team up with the Medical Research Council and five universities — UCL, Imperial, Cambridge, Glasgow and Newcastle — to study inflammatory diseases.
The Experimental Medicine Initiative to Explore New Therapies will be backed with £8m of funding from the MRC over five years.
“It will bring together experts in a way that hasn’t happened before,” said Chris Watkins, director of translational research at the MRC. “Developing medicines is hard, and it can be done much earlier if you bring the best minds to it through collaboration between academia and industry.”
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