Pharma major GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is to reveal previously confidential data on thousands of potential anti-malaria compounds. The move will, hopefully, expand access to medicines and encourage new research into neglected tropical diseases.
Building on the promise last year to share its resources, GSK announced the establishment of the first ever 'Open Lab' to act as an engine room of scientific innovation for neglected tropical diseases.
GSK has created capacity for up to 60 scientists from around the world to have access to the 'Open Lab' which will be based at the company's research centre at the Tres Cantos Campus, Spain. The Tres Cantos Campus is a GSK-owned and operated facility dedicated to the research and development of new medicines for diseases of the developing world.
In the 'Open Lab', scientists will be encouraged to tap into the expertise, knowledge and infrastructure of the company, while pursuing their own projects as part of an integrated drug discovery team. GSK will establish a not-for-profit foundation with an initial seed investment of $8m to help fund the research and facilitate better sharing of knowledge and ideas.
GSK has screened its pharmaceutical compound library of more than 2 million molecules for any that may inhibit the malaria parasite P.falciparum
, the deadliest form of malaria, which is found primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. This exercise took five scientists a year to complete, and has yielded more than 13,500 compounds that could lead to the development of new and innovative treatments for malaria, which kills at least one million children every year in Africa.
GSK will make these findings, including the chemical structures and associated assay data, freely available to the public via leading scientific websites. The release of these data will mark the first time that a pharmaceutical company has made public the structures of so many of its compounds in the hope that they could lead to new medicines for malaria.
The company has 13,500 molecules which have been tested against the parasite which causes malaria.
One expert said more sharing of data could trigger advances like those that came from the human genome project.
The way in which pharmaceutical firms guard the secrets of their drugs and research has long been cited as an obstacle to disease research.
GSK also said that governance of the 'knowledge pool' will be taken over by an independent third party, BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH).
GSK and BVGH have also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Emory Institute for Drug Discovery (EIDD) to join the pool and further open up knowledge, chemical libraries, and other assets in the search for new medicines for neglected tropical diseases.
A second collaboration has also been established with South Africa firm iThemba Pharmaceuticals. This work will help research and discovery into new medicines to treat tuberculosis.
The company outlined the sustainable approach it has developed to price RTS,S, the world's most advanced malaria candidate vaccine. RTS,S is currently in pivotal Phase III trials across seven African countries. GSK and its partners are optimistic that the trials will lead to the first registered vaccine against malaria.
The pricing model will cover the cost of the vaccine together with a small return which will be fully reinvested into research and development for second-generation malaria vaccines, or vaccines for other neglected tropical diseases. This will ensure sustainable long-term commitment to the malaria and neglected tropical disease research programme.
Besides the GSK African Malaria Partnership announced new grants totaling $2.5m to four NGOs working in Africa. These are:
- Save the Children - projects in Kenya
- Family Health International - projects in Ghana
- African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) - projects in Tanzania
- Planned Parenthood Foundation of Nigeria - projects in Nigeria
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Andrew Witty, Chief Executive of GSK, said: "Since I took over at GSK I have been focused on changing the business model for the company to improve performance. But equally important is the imperative to earn the trust of society, not just by meeting expectations, but by exceeding them.
"We want to be a company that is truly a partner in addressing the healthcare challenges in the world's poorest countries, no matter how difficult they are. A restless company, never satisfied with what it has achieved, but always looking for ways of doing more.
"The measures we have announced today are characterised by a determination to be more flexible, open and willing to learn. We are working with world-class partners to find new business models to expand access to medicines and deliver unique solutions in all the communities where we work.
"GSK has the capability to make a difference and a genuine appetite to change the landscape of healthcare for the world's poorest people."
One of GSK's partners, Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), welcomed the announcements. MMV is a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to reducing the burden of malaria in disease-endemic countries. For the past seven years, it has invested significant financial resources, manpower and intellectual property into the partnership with GSK to develop new, innovative medicines for malaria.
Dr Timothy Wells, Chief Scientific Officer of the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), said: "At MMV we are proud to be associated with GSK's new initiatives, which have the potential to dramatically alter the way the world approaches research and development for neglected diseases."
By sharing the data from the MMV-GSK screening collaboration, the research community can start to build up a public repository of knowledge that should be as powerful as the human genome databases and could set a new trend to revolutionise the urgent search for new medicines to tackle malaria."