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Oxford, GSK Partner on New Tech for Neuro Diseases

Brain circuits illustration

(HypnoArt, Pixabay)

2 Dec. 2021. GlaxoSmithKline is funding a joint research center at University of Oxford to advance precision medical technologies, beginning with neurological disorders. GSK, a global drug maker based in London, is providing £30 million ($US 40 million) to begin the Oxford-GSK Institute of Molecular and Computational Medicine in the university’s medical school.

Oxford and GSK say the institute plans to build on advances is genomics and computational biology to improve success rates in treating patients, by discovering new therapies better matched to an individual’s genetic make-up. In addition, the institute expects to apply breakthroughs in machine learning and other types of artificial intelligence to gain new insights into pathology, particularly for measuring changes in a person’s body chemistry, down to fine cellular and protein levels.

The institute plans to establish five fellowships for early- and mid-career researchers from the university and GSK, who will serve as principal investigators to begin and lead new labs. The research groups are expected to study the use of genetics, proteomics, and advanced medical analytics to better understand how diseases are expressed in individuals. The research teams plan to focus initially on neurological diseases affected by mechanisms in the immune system including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, and frontotemporal dementia, as well as pain.

Rich resources for sophisticated analytics

GSK is showing more interest in therapies that exploit connections between the immune and nervous systems. In July, Science & Enterprise reported on a licensing and collaboration deal between GSK and California biotechnology company Alector Inc. valued at $2.2 billion. The agreement gives GSK access to two of Alector’s synthetic antibodies for treating Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

GSK is expected to offer the institute researchers with expertise in genetics and artificial intelligence, drawing on the company’s A.I. center in London. The company says its recent partnerships with the biomedical database UK Biobank and consumer genetics company 23andMe, and access to other genetic databases offer rich resources for sophisticated analytics that identify more precise targets for therapies. In addition, these more precise targeting methods make it possible to recruit participants in clinical trials more likely to respond to therapy candidates.

Oxford says it plans to involve colleagues from its Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics and Big Data Institute in the joint research center. “The institute,” says the university’s vice-chancellor Louise Richardson in a statement, “will create a unique partnership with staff from the university’s medical school and GSK working side-by-side to research and develop treatments for some of the most difficult to treat diseases.”

U.K.’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson notes in the statement, “We saw first-hand during the pandemic how the ingenuity and pioneering spirit of U.K. scientists and the R&D sector saved thousands of lives, with the rapid development and delivery of medicines and vaccines around the world. I am delighted to see that GSK and the University of Oxford are today taking further steps to deepen our understanding of some of the most complex diseases, such as Parkinson’s.”

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