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GSK names drug hunter challenge winners

Competition finds promising projects in anti-infectives, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases

GSK - logo on building 

GlaxoSmithKline's innovation challenge attracted more than 400 applications this year, with 14 proposals selected in areas including anti-infectives, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

The Discovery Fast Track competition is run by a GSK department known as DPAc - Discovery Partnerships with Academia - which was set up in 2011 and aims to help track down promising projects.

First launched in North America last year, the Challenge was extended to Europe in 2014 and had been expected to provide up to 20 awards.

2014's crop of winners includes five academic teams from North America and nine teams from Europe whose projects were selected "because they hold the promise of advancing unmet medical needs," said GSK.

The winners get the opportunity to collaborate with the DPAc and Molecular Discovery Research teams at GSK, with access to the company's compound collection as well as input from GSK scientists on the identification of suitable drug candidates.

Pharma is increasingly looking at ways in which it can tap into the work being done by academic researchers, as it is now widely accepted that the old ways of doing all R&D in-house is slow and inefficient.

Other companies that have deployed the innovation challenge approach include AstraZeneca (AZ) and Merck & Co. Meanwhile, firms such as Johnson & Johnson have taken a slightly different tack, opening a network of offices near leading academic centres and offering expertise and assistance to external research teams.

Professor Andrew Lever of the University of Cambridge - whose proposal in the area of HIV treatment was selected as a winner in the challenge - said: "To do this seriously and properly, and with some speed, entering the [Discovery Fast Track Challenge] was the logical next stage to help move the research forward."

Work on many of the winning projects has already started and GSK expects the first compound screens to be completed by mid-2015.

"We believe there is a real advantage in bringing together the best in academia and industry to help take innovative ideas forward in drug discovery," said DPAc's European head Duncan Holmes.

"We look forward to working with each of the winners to help identify novel quality pharmacologically active compounds for their targets."

The full list of winners is as follows:

Dr Federica Briani, University of Milan: targeting bacterial infections 
Professor Morris Brown, University of Cambridge: primary hyperaldosteronism
Dr Christos Chatziantoniou, National Institute of Health and Medical Research: kidney disease
Professor Giulio Superti-Furga and Dr Kilian Huber, Research Center for Molecular Medicine: oncology
Professor Steve Jackson and Dr Delphine Larrieu, University of Cambridge: inherited laminopathies
Professor Andrew Lever, University of Cambridge: targeting HIV infection
Professor Michael Marber, King's College London: ischaemic heart disease
Dr Geerten P. van Nieuw Amerongen, VU University Medical Center: treatment of vascular leakage and oedema
Dr Simon D. Wagner, University of Leicester: oncology

North America
Dr John Burnett Jr., Mayo Clinic, and Dr Siobhan Malany, Sanford-Burnham Institute for Medical Research: discovery of anti-hypertensive agents
Professor Maureen Murphy, the Wistar Institute, and Professor Donna George and Professor Julia Leu, University of Pennsylvania: oncology
Professor Vanessa Sperandio, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center: targeting bacterial infections
Professor Stefan Strack, University of Iowa: targeting mitochondrial fragmentation for neuroprotection
Professor Tania Watts, University of Toronto: treatment of B-cell lymphomas


Article by
Phil Taylor

2nd December 2014

From: Research



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