Andy is a Scientist at GSK Stevenage

Keeping ahead of the game

To be the best at what we do, we rely on innovative science to create products capable of transforming the lives of patients.

This is an exciting, but daunting task. We live in a time where scientific understanding is growing at an unprecedented rate, creating opportunities for treating disease that 20 years ago not even the most enlightened scientists would have thought possible.

Since 2009 we’ve had more new medicines approved than any other healthcare company, including treatments for asthma and COPD, HIV and cancer. And we have many potential new medicines and vaccines in development.

These achievements happened not by accident but because we pursue the newest science both within our own labs and in collaboration with the greatest scientific minds outside GSK. This is enabling us to build a diverse research portfolio, based on truly game-changing science.

Discovering and developing new medicines and vaccines is tough – it requires huge investment, takes a long time and there’s a high rate of failure. Working alongside others enables us to not just ensure that we’re working on the best new science, but also to share the risk, which is crucial for a thriving life-sciences community.

To this end, alongside the cutting-edge research our 10,000 scientists are doing internally, we’re also involved in collaborations with more than 1500 external organisations, including other companies, academic institutions, research charities and governments. This is enabling us to explore new avenues of science in partnership, sharing knowledge of diseases that are proving particularly difficult to tackle and unlocking the potential of compounds we’ve already investigated and where earlier research failed. 

The aim of many of our collaborations is to expand both our and the broader research community’s understanding of the fundamental causes of disease. This is because the majority of investigational treatments fail in clinical trials because we don’t yet fully understand the biological processes that underlie many illnesses. We believe that if researchers across the scientific community work together early on, we can reduce our failure rate, make our research more efficient and, ultimately, bring innovative new medicines to patients faster.

collaborations

That’s why we’re focusing heavily, in our own labs and through our pioneering collaborations, on major technology advances that are helping us to better understand biological pathways and the influence of our bodies’ genes.

In 2014 we joined forces with the European Bioinformatics Institute – a global leader in the analysis of biological data; and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute – a scientific institute with a unique understanding of genetics – to create the Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation.

Altius, a research institute we’ve established in Seattle with leading professor of genome sciences, Professor John A. Stamatoyannopoulos, is another important initiative pioneering the latest genetic technologies to help us see inside cells’ “operating systems”.

Laboratory R&D

We believe that this knowledge and expertise will enable us to continue developing truly innovative medicines, while driving efficiency within our own research teams in the longer term. It could also radically change the way drug development is conducted industry-wide.

Another way we stimulate scientific innovation is through venture capitalism. Thirty years ago, we established an independent venture capital firm, SR One, with the remit to invest globally in emerging life sciences companies. Today SR One invests between $30 and $50m every year in around 30 companies. We’ve also joined forces with other venture capital firms, investing millions of dollars globally in early stage science being developed outside our company. Not only is this approach nurturing the life sciences community and creating brand new companies to drive forward new areas of research, it is also blurring the lines between early-stage academic science and the later-stage R&D activities of industry.

In its mission to bring innovative new products to patients, the healthcare industry is reliant on serendipity and leaps of faith, alongside large investment and a broad range of scientific expertise. There is no doubt this is a risky business, but it’s a risk worth taking and one we manage by balancing our investments between in-house projects, external collaborations and risk-sharing initiatives. We believe we’ve got that balance right, and it’s this that’s placing us ahead of the game.