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Press Release

GSK Names Inaugural Winners in Unique Competition for Academic Drug Hunters


Issued: Wednesday 06 November 2013, Philadelphia, PA

GSK today announced the selection of eight winners in its first Discovery Fast Track competition, designed to translate academic research into starting points for new potential medicines. The contest attracted 142 entries across 17 therapeutic areas from 70 universities, academic research institutions, clinics and hospitals in the US and Canada.

The winning projects show clear opportunities to deal with important unmet medical needs, including antibiotics resistance, diseases of the developing world and certain cancer types. The selected scientists will collaborate with GSK’s Discovery Partnerships with Academia (DPAc) team, the sponsor of the competition, to rapidly screen and identify novel compounds to test their promising hypotheses. If advanced chemical testing is successful, the winning investigators could be offered a DPAc partnership to further refine molecules and assess their potential as novel new medicines.

"The eight researchers we have chosen are experts in their fields of study and are passionate about translating their science into therapy and we look forward to providing them with access to GSK’s compound collection, screening capabilities and scientific expertise in drug discovery," said Pearl Huang, Global Head of DPAc. "The quality of the entries, from some of the top research organizations in North America, was exceptional. We believe the winning projects represent groundbreaking research concepts that address underserved or unmet medical needs and could help to bring transformative treatments to patients."

The 2013 GSK Discovery Fast Track winners are:

  • Sarah Ades, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University: A novel approach for an anti-microbial agent class of antibiotic for gram negative bacteria
  • Myles Akabas, M.D., Ph.D., Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University: A novel approach for new treatments for malaria
  • Lauren Brown, Ph.D., and Scott Schaus, Ph.D., Boston University and Jim McKerrow, M.D., Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco: A novel approach for new treatments for leishmaniasis
  • Rahul Kohli, M.D., Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania: A novel approach for the design of antibiotics to overcome clinical resistance
  • Richard Leduc, Ph.D., Université de Sherbrooke: A novel approach for new treatments for iron overload diseases
  • Deborah O’Brien, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: A novel approach to regulation of male fertility
  • John Sondek, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: A novel approach for new treatments for metastatic epithelial cancers
  • Harvard Medical School. Winner’s name and area of science will not be announced.

DPAc: A new approach to drug discovery

Launched in the UK in late 2010, the DPAc program is a new approach to drug discovery where academic partners become core members of drug-hunting teams. GSK and the academic partner share the risk and reward of innovation: GSK funds activities in the partner laboratories and provides in-kind resources to progress a program from an idea to a candidate medicine. DPAc’s reach is global. To date, GSK has initiated nine collaborations in nine disease areas in the UK, US and Canada.

"The competition pushed me to think about my research in a different light," said Sarah Ades, an associate professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Pennsylvania State University. "The experience made me think more and harder about incorporating approaches and answering questions that are more relevant to translational research. These approaches will enhance my basic science and help me move along the path from the lab to the clinic."

One of the key challenges in structuring this competition was ensuring the intellectual property rights of universities, investigators and GSK were respected. Throughout the competition, GSK maintained an open dialogue with the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) personnel to provide clarity on intellectual property related matters and also to address the views and concerns of the academic community to ensure all applications complied with institution’s interests and regulations.

"Einstein’s Office of Biotechnology and GSK worked closely together to make sure the application process for the Discovery Fast Track competition went smoothly for our investigators." said Ece Auffarth, Ph.D., Contract and Licensing Manager, Office of Biotechnology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "Technology transfer offices play a key role in helping industry communicate with investigators in light of their institution’s policies and agreements."

Work on the winning Discovery Fast Track projects will begin immediately and the first screens are expected to be completed in mid-2014.

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