1:41 PM
 | 
Nov 30, 2017
 |  BC Innovations  |  Strategy

Doctors in the house

GSK is internalizing external innovation, bringing academics in house

While academic partnerships have become par for the course in pharma, GSK is going a step beyond the standard model of external alliances by bringing professors in-house with virtually unrestricted access to its activities. The initiative is the latest example of pharmas lowering their guard in order to both access cutting-edge science and foster the ecosystem’s future innovators.

It’s a necessary but worthwhile price to pay, according to Paul-Peter Tak, who created the program, dubbed Immunology Network, in 2015. Tak is Chief Immunology Officer and SVP of the R&D Pipeline at GlaxoSmithKline plc.

“Our philosophy is to be very open with the external world in terms of target identification and target validation. We compete in terms of molecules,” Tak told BioCentury.

The core of the Immunology Network involves providing academic researchers with three-year sabbaticals inside GSK’s R&D hub in Stevenage, where they are given a lab, personnel and access to the pharma’s technology, compound libraries and internal meetings and data.

Tak noted the program is “not transforming them into GSK employees. They continue to be employees of the university, and we reimburse the university.”

Moreover, the researchers can take their discoveries with them when they leave.

“If they discover something within our facilities that’s completely based on their own research, then they actually own the IP. I think no other company has done it in this way,” said Tak.

Louise Modis, the Immunology Network’s scientific director, told BioCentury that the program’s IP terms boil down to the principle that “they own the biology IP that they bring and that they do, and GSK protects molecules that are going into the clinic.”

Thus far, the program has brought in seven investigators, expanded the indications of two internal programs, and founded an undisclosed newco in a white space area, which GSK is funding as a minority investor and is exploring the option to buy.

Luke O’Neill, a program participant and a professor of inflammation research at Trinity College Dublin, gives GSK credit for creating something “brand new,” and based on the program’s success so far, thinks other companies should follow suit. “GSK was taking a risk, because nobody had done this before.”

“Our philosophy is to be very open with the external world in terms of target identification and target validation. We compete in terms of molecules.”

Paul-Peter Tak, GSK

Transplant model

Tak joined GSK in 2011, and is one of the two primary leaders reporting to outgoing CSO and President of R&D Patrick Vallance, who on Jan. 1 will hand the reins over to Hal Barron, currently president of R&D at longevity company Calico LLC.

Vallance is leaving the pharma at the end of March to become the U.K. government’s chief science adviser and head of the government’s Office for Science. The Immunology Network program will continue under GSK’s new leadership.

Having spent the bulk of his career as an academic researcher and physician, Tak created the Immunology Network to fill what...

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