Based at the University of Oxford and backed by £30m from GSK, the new institute aims to improve the success and speed of research and development of new medicines, building on insights from human genetics and using advanced technologies such as functional genomics and machine learning.
In particular, the new institute will evaluate and integrate new approaches in genetics, proteomics and digital pathology to understand detailed patterns of disease which vary amongst individuals.
“Genetic evidence has already been shown to double success rates in clinical studies of new treatments, and the digitisation of human biology has the potential to improve drug discovery by more closely linking genes to patients,” say the partners.
“The new institute aims to build on this scientific progress and improve how diseases are understood by drawing on recent advances in pathology, including how to measure changes on a cellular, protein, or tissue level.”
The initial area of research will be neurological diseases: such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Frontal Temporal Dementia, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and Pain will be within the initial scope of the Institute. GSK already has a pipeline of genetically informed targets and clinical projects in these areas.
The power of machine learning
GSK is prioritizing genetically informed drug targets generated from collaborations with organizations such as 23andMe and UK Biobank.
“The genetic and genomic revolution of the past decade has amassed vast datasets of promising targets for medicine discovery,” it notes. “These datasets can be combined with functional genomics to provide deep understanding of disease at a molecular level.
“By harnessing this understanding, as well as the power of machine learning, the Institute will uncover new indicators and predictors of disease and use them to accelerate the most promising areas for drug discovery.”
The institute will also aim to provide new measurements to establish proof of concept for potential medicines earlier in the R&D process, by better identifying the most appropriate patients to enrol in clinical trials, thus accelerating drug development timelines.
GSK and Oxford say they will bring complementary capabilities and expertise into the institute. GSK has capabilities in human genetics and functional genomics, and an in-house artificial intelligence and machine learning function, including its AI hub in central London. Meanwhile, the University of Oxford has similar expertise but together they will be using patient, molecular information and state-of-the-art platforms to pinpoint the GSK targets that are most likely to succeed and be developed into safe, effective, disease mechanism-based medicines.
The institute will recruit a number of new research groups, in addition to drawing upon existing expertise from both GSK and Oxford. Five GSK/Oxford fellowships will be provided for early to mid-career researchers to establish themselves as Principal Investigators researching areas aligned with the Institute’s aims and objectives.
The institute will have its base in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, and be closely associated with colleagues from across departments, including the University’s Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics and Big Data Institute.
The first projects are expected to start in the second half of 2022 (the exact nature of which are currently under discussion) and will use the latest laboratory and data science platforms and approaches. Research teams will have both GSK and University members, including secondments between both institutions.
The Directors of the Institute will be Professor John Todd, Director of the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics and Dr Tony Wood, SVP, Medicinal Science and Technology at GSK.