GSK, the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust today announce their Strategic Partnership, with the long-term ambition to jointly deliver new medicine to patients in the next 5-10 years.

Our vision for the Cambridge Biomedical Campus is to pursue world-leading biomedical research and translate this into new or improved diagnostics and treatments. Key to this vision are partnerships with industry

Patrick Maxwell, Regius Professor of Physic

The GSK/Cambridge Strategic Partnership builds on collaborations between the partners that bring together a variety of unique and complementary expertise and capabilities, from basic biology through to clinical studies, which when combined could transform how we develop the next wave of ‘game-changing’ medicines.

At an event being held at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge, to celebrate the partnership, researchers from all three organisations will be showcasing existing projects, which include research towards new medicines for brain trauma, cystic fibrosis, osteoarthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and the development of cutting-edge imaging techniques.

So far, the partnership has brought together scientific and clinical experts and provided access to research infrastructure across the university and hospital, including that provided by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre. This has led to a growing range of active collaborations, including pre-clinical and clinical research projects, studentships and post-doctoral appointments, training and education, drug discovery workshops and a Knowledge Exchange Programme. The partners are looking at ways of building stronger links between their respective programmes focused on Africa and on the search for new medicines for neglected tropical diseases.

Professor Patrick Maxwell, Regius Professor of Physic at the University of Cambridge, says: “Our vision for the Cambridge Biomedical Campus is to pursue world-leading biomedical research and translate this into new or improved diagnostics and treatments. Key to this vision are partnerships with industry.

“Our collaboration with GSK builds on the strengths of each partner to create a relationship that is far greater than just the sum of its parts. It gives our academics access to the technologies and molecules that only industry can provide while giving GSK access to the world-leading research knowledge at Cambridge, delivering valuable impact for both partners.”

The relationship champions the value of industry-academia collaboration to build trust and enable scientists to share complementary skills and expertise. A GSK ‘Entrepreneur in Residence’ to the university provides support to academics to encourage translational thinking. By supporting academics in their applications to translational funding programmes, GSK seeks to leverage its investment and grow the partnership further.

A Varsity Funding Programme, overseen by a Joint Steering Committee and part of the Strategic Partnership, directly funds collaborative projects focused on developing new medicines across the breadth of GSK research areas of interest, such as small molecules, biopharmaceuticals and cell/gene therapy. In addition to this core focus the Varsity programme also supports enabling/fundamental scientific projects which aim to address clear gaps in our understanding of disease and drug mechanisms.

Experimental Medicine

A key component of the partnership is a more targeted approach to testing medicines in patients known as ‘experimental medicine’. Early stage R&D has, until very recently, been limited to lab and animal-based research. As a result, it has been very difficult to accurately identify new targets and to measure the impact of potential new medicines on disease; in recent years, only around 10% of compounds entering clinical trials have succeeded. With recent technological advances, it is now possible to examine how different diseases behave in individual cells in the body, and the impact of potential new medicines on disease processes.

For example, a collaboration between Professor Andres Floto at the University of Cambridge and Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Dr Rab Prinjha at GSK is looking at a potential new treatment for inflammatory lung disease. The team is using state-of-the-art remote monitoring devices to study precisely how certain inflammatory molecules affect the symptoms of disease in a small group of patients. If this small study suggests they are effective in reducing the chemical signs of the disease, then a larger, more expensive clinical trial may be justified. If, on the other hand, the results are negative, the expense, time and impact on patients of a clinical trial can be spared.

Paul-Peter Tak, Head of Immuno-Inflammation at GSK and a lead on the Cambridge partnership, says: “At GSK, we believe that working alongside scientists from outside our labs is crucial to strengthening our understanding of human disease. The scientific community needs to embrace collaboration and share information about its successes and failures if we’re to accelerate the development of new treatments for patients.

“Our partnership with Cambridge University is a great opportunity for us to combine our drug development expertise with the research skills of the academic scientists based at this world leading hub for life sciences research. Centred around our own clinical trials unit located within the city’s main hospital, we’re perfectly placed to work together to translate cutting edge early stage science in to innovative new medicines.”

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