The FINANCIAL — GSK announced on June 16 that it is making a substantial investment to launch the Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences (Altius), an independent, non-profit research institute, in Seattle, Washington.
Altius will be pioneering new technologies and approaches for decoding how genes are controlled and how a cell’s “operating system” functions in health and disease. GSK expects to capitalise on rapid progress in understanding gene control to select and validate better drug targets, and to accelerate many key aspects of developing new medicines.
Altius will be led by Dr John A. Stamatoyannopoulos, an internationally-recognised leader in gene regulation research and Professor of Genome Sciences and Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Altius will be creating a research environment that couples the scientific creativity and innovation of an academic environment with previously unavailable integrated capabilities in instrumentation, automation, and computation. Altius will be wholly independent from GSK, with its own management, board of directors and external advisors, according to GSK.
GSK and Altius have signed a 10-year collaboration agreement that provides long-term support for innovative, high-impact research. During the first five years, GSK will provide over $95 million in cash and other resources to advance the Institute’s basic research and technology efforts, which are also expected to attract funding from public and other sources. Additional GSK funding will be provided to apply the Institute’s technologies and discoveries to a wide range of drug discovery and development projects, including specific projects identified by GSK. Expecting Altius to be a catalyst of innovation, GSK has retained first rights to option the Institute’s inventions, and to invest in commercialization of its discoveries via spinout companies.
GSK’s unique collaboration with Altius will enable rapid translation of the most cutting-edge genetics research technologies to the drug discovery process. Because of poor visibility into how medicines affect the inner workings of cells and tissues, many drugs fail in late stage development, which is extremely expensive. Gaining vision into the function and control of a cell’s genes will greatly improve the probability of selecting and developing the right drug targets for the right diseases. GSK’s work with Altius is expected to result in increased efficiency and reduced attrition across R&D at GSK and could radically reshape the way drug development is conducted industry-wide.
“Dramatic breakthroughs in understanding how the human genome functions are still in their infancy in terms of how they can be applied to drug discovery, but we can see their potential to transform the process,” said Lon Cardon, Senior Vice president of Alternative Discovery and Development at GSK. “This is not an incremental change. We are aiming for transformative outcomes that could improve our ability to bring innovative and more effective new medicines to patients.”
The Institute is a further example of GSK’s focus in recent years on major technology advances capitalising on breakthrough understanding of biological pathways and harnessing the power of human genomics – all with the aim of reducing failure in R&D and enabling the progress of research that provides the best chance of success.
Since 2009, GSK has received more medicine approvals than any other pharmaceutical company and retains a strong pipeline of new medicines and vaccines at all stages of development. Yet for every one of these approved medicines that reaches patients, many do not. GSK is investing to drive down these failures and uncover new scientific opportunities, through pioneering collaborations and research programmes as well as in-house investments, focused on improving the translation of disease biology to drug discovery.
“With this visionary investment, GSK is gaining a front-line view into the revolution now underway in understanding how cells function,” said Dr. Stamatoyannopoulos. “Innovative technologies are needed to gain a deeper understanding of how cells’ ‘operating systems’ work. Translating this understanding effectively into clinical settings and the discovery of new medicines will require wholly new approaches to combining technology, molecular biology and computation. GSK’s pioneering support will enable Altius to innovate at the forefront of gene regulation science.”
Altius expects to collaborate extensively with Seattle-area research institutions to pioneer translation of basic discoveries into clinical advances. Seattle is home to world-class biomedical research institutions such as the University of Washington, one of the most highly funded public research universities in the USA, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home to three Nobel Prize winners. The Institute is expected to be operational later this year.