Digging into diversity

GSK, Novartis kick off collaboration to explore how genetic diversity in Africa impacts treatment response

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Digging into diversity

LONDON—A collaboration is now underway between GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Novartis supporting high-quality research investigating how genetic diversity across different regions in Africa could impact patients' responses to drug therapeutics. The project—Africa Genomic Research Approach for Diversity and Optimising Therapeutics (GRADIENT)—will have a combined funding commitment of GBP 2.8m (USD 3.6 million) over the course of five years, and is soliciting research proposals from African researchers on how African genetic diversity impacts treatment for malaria and tuberculosis.

“At GSK, human genetics is a core pillar of our R&D strategy. Genetic diversity is greater in Africa than in any other continental population, resulting in some African patients having varying response to treatments,” said Pauline Williams, senior vice president of Global Health Pharma at GSK. “We are excited to launch Project Africa GRADIENT which aims to catalyze the best science in the continent to optimize treatment responses for malaria and tuberculosis, two infectious diseases that disproportionately affect African populations.”

“Novartis has a long-standing commitment to improving and extending the lives of patients around the world. Our efforts include seeking innovative ways to improve the standard of care where possible. This is why we are excited by this important collaboration on scientific research on genetic diversity in Africa. It has the potential to improve the efficacy and tolerability of current and future medicines, starting with two of the most deadly diseases, malaria and tuberculosis. In alignment with our ongoing efforts to strengthen scientific capabilities in lower-resource settings, this project also provides opportunities for training young African scientists in the use of advanced research methodologies and mentoring on drug development,” commented Dr. Lutz Hegemann, chief operating officer for Global Health at Novartis.

According to a GSK press release, the project will have three funding mechanisms to support: a limited number of fellowships at academic institutions for the collection and analysis of data on determinants of drug response; investigator-sponsored research focused on genetic regional variation and its impact on drug response; and seed-fund for a limited number of projects to enable the exploration of new research goals, depending on the results from the previous two categories.

The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) will administer the project within the scope of the agreement, with a joint steering committee to oversee the review of proposals. The intent is for all collated datasets to be released in a public database to improve treatment safety and efficacy.

“It is exciting to see more and more global partners taking interest in the challenges of Africa,” remarked Prof. Glenda Gray, SAMRC President and CEO. “We are delighted that partners are now seeking to address the challenges of Africa by their quest to understand the fundamental differences between genetics of Africa and the rest of the world.”

Researchers are invited to express their “intent to submit” via the SAMRC website at https://www.samrc.ac.za/request-for-applications/project-africa-gradient. Final award recipients will be announced by the end of 2021.

In other recent news for GSK, it was announced on Jan. 20 that Nexelis, a portfolio company of Ampersand Capital Partners, had inked an asset purchase agreement under which it will acquire GSK's GCLP-certified clinical bioanalytical laboratory in Marburg, Germany. The Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS) team in Marburg will be transferred to Nexelis but will maintain a relationship with GSK and support development of future vaccine candidates via a five-year strategic collaborative agreement. The transaction will be effective as of the end of January 2021.

“Strategic outsourcing will optimize GSK’s footprint and increase our agility so that we can continue to accelerate the development of the candidate vaccines in our pipeline. Based on the previous successful transfer of other laboratory activities to Nexelis, we are confident that this will be a great fit due to the quality and agility of the Nexelis organization,” noted Emmanuel Hanon, head of GSK Vaccines R&D.

Benoit Bouche, Nexelis CEO, stated that, “We are thrilled to welcome on board new colleagues with a legacy of over 20 years under Novartis and GSK leadership in clinical laboratory activities supporting the development of vaccines against viral and bacterial diseases. We believe that this transaction is a determining step in the establishment of Nexelis as an unrivaled global vaccine player.”

Photo credit: GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)

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