GlaxoSmithKline launches Discovery Fast Track competition for academic researchers

Scientists in United States and Canada encouraged to submit ‘groundbreaking research proposals’ for chance at collaborative partnership focused on drug discovery

Jeffrey Bouley
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LONDON—In late 2010, GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK) launchedits Discovery Partnerships with Academia (DPAc) program, with a goal ofdeveloping viable research-stage drug candidates into innovative medicines. Now,it has recently announced the launch of Discovery Fast Track, a competitiondesigned to accelerate the translation of academic research into noveltherapies—winners of the competition will partner with investigators on GSK's DPActeam
Under the DPAc program, described as "a newapproach to drug discovery where academic partners become core members ofdrug-hunting teams," GSK and the academic partner reportedly share both therisk and reward of innovation. Specifically, GSK funds activities in thepartner laboratories, as well as provides in-kind resources to progress aprogram from an idea to a candidate medicine.
DPAc programs are incredibly valuable," saidRoger Cone, professor of molecular physiology and biophysics at VanderbiltUniversity School of Medicine and a DPAc participant. "Pharmaceutical companiesbring an industrial approach to drug discovery that can't be replicated inacademia. Combined with the pharmacological expertise of academia, it's aperfect combination of skills and resources."
GSK describes DPAc's reach as "global" and addsthat it has initiated nine collaborations in nine disease areas, including twoin the United States and one in Canada.
So, why the competitive aspect with Discovery FastTrack?
GSK says that it's doing this to avoid initialcontract negotiations, "which are often perceived as the biggest bottleneck inthe drug discovery process," and this lead the DPAc team to conceive theDiscovery Fast Track competition "as a means to rapidly identify and screen themost promising hypotheses in academia." 
GSK points out that the top seven deal-makingpharma companies had nearly 80 agreements with academic institutions from 2011to 2012 and that one reason there weren't more is probably because negotiatinga contract—including figuring out how to manage intellectual property, profitsharing and publishing rights—can take as long as two years.
As a GSK spokesperson told DDNEWS,  "By limiting thecollaboration to a short burst up front, both sides win: potential drugs areexplored faster without all the paperwork of a long-term collaboration."
"With the Discovery Fast Track competition, wewant to give all academic researchers who are passionate about translatingtheir science into therapy a chance to collaborate and access GSK resources andexpertise to help bring novel and transformative  treatments to patients," said Dr. PearlHuang, global head of DPAc, in the news release about the deal. "We are excitedto receive submissions in all therapeutic area and look forward to being partof the researcher's journey in making a difference."
According to GSK, each winning academicinvestigator will share a novel drug development concept, including thetherapeutic hypothesis, target, assay protocols and reagents. In return, GSKwill configure a high-throughput assay to screen the target against itsextensive compound library. Together, GSK and the investigator "will interpretand triage the output to identify chemical probes that researchers can use totest their hypotheses in more advanced biological assays."
Ideally, if the effort prove fruitful, the workcould lead to an actual DPAc partnership under which the parties could furtherassess the drug development potential.
Registration for the competition closes on July 19.The application consists of a one-page summary, including the therapeutichypothesis, the target information and the biological screen's status. InAugust 2013, an expert panel of judges will select up to 20 finalists, who willthen submit an expanded application including confidential support data and presenttheir proposal to GSK. Winners will be selected in October 2013.

Jeffrey Bouley

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