This case study originally appeared on page 33 of the NCUB report Growing Value: Business University Collaboration for the 21st Century. The report is part of the Growing Value project, seeking to maximise the economic impact of the UK’s research base through university-business collaboration. Read the full report.

It’s not a secret that the fully-integrated pharma R&D model is out-dated and needs to change. The productivity levels of the past fifteen years are proof that the pharmaceutical industry has to reinvent its business model, become more efficient, and find higher potential, helping fledgling ideas to turn into life-changing medicines. GlaxoSmithKline recognised several years ago that it does not have the monopoly on innovation and has set about forging stronger links with biotechs and academia, where there are creative ideas and early stage assets which need help to translate them into medicines for patients. Government health organisations are also pursuing excellent and specialised research, leading the world in many fields, which is advancing our understanding of disease. Playing to each other’s strengths and combining our efforts is the way forward for patients.

GSK has learned that you need to become part of the science environment, sharing ideas and great science, as well as entering the debate on how to move forward in the fight against disease. It has made great strides in the past few years and is now involved in several pre-competitive research initiatives as well as opening up its own doors by sharing compound library data, in particular for the benefit of the diseases of the developing world.

“I joined GSK from academia. I saw great science being carried out, but I also saw a company that was a bit closed off from the world. I wanted us to be more integrated in the science environment, especially as it was there on the doorstep.” Patrick Vallance, President, Pharmaceuticals R&D, GSK

Working together of course is a lot easier when you are near each other. GSK is a global organisation with more than 10,000 people in R&D, based in the UK, the USA, Spain, Belgium and China. We access ideas all over the globe, but we have some of the best universities and medical research centres within a stone’s throw of our UK-based major research complexes. GlaxoSmithKline’s R&D sites at Stevenage, Ware and Harlow are within the geographical triangle of Oxford, Cambridge and London and happily positioned in the middle of some of the world’s best research. It would be folly not to collaborate with some of the best scientific minds who can apply their thinking to our common problems.

“We are looking for new medicines for diseases of the eye. All our research is conducted externally with groups like the Moorfields Eye Hospital and the Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London. Working with some of the world’s top scientists in this area has resulted in ophthalmology becoming a key disease area for GSK in a very short period of time.”
Claudine Bruck, head of Ophthalmology

Likewise GSK wants to work with biotechs and has a lot of depth and experience in turning concepts into medicines a patient can take. SMEs have entrepreneurial scientists who may have one or two areas they specialise in, but can only take their ideas so far. GSK is very happy to partner to take the ideas forward, but by setting ourselves up to work in close proximity with these teams of scientists there is even greater potential to spark new ideas. This is one of the true advantages of clusters, where different approaches and knowledge are brought together in a powerhouse of problem solving. We would like the boundaries between academia, the NHS, biotech, research institutes and Pharma to become much more porous so the ecosystem can develop. But this can only be achieved if all parties are well represented. Within the cluster are some of the world’s best specialist hospitals, institutions and universities, and we need to encourage biotechs to grow. That is why GSK, the Wellcome Trust and Government have supported the creation of a Science Park co-located with GSK’s R&D Centre. The Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst (SBC), the UK’s first open innovation bioscience campus, opened for business in February 2012 (http://www.stevenagecatalyst.com). Within a few months of the science park opening, the University of Cambridge announced it would base researchers at the SBC to embark on a programme of scientific open collaboration with GSK. There are science parks in Cambridge already but the chance to work with GSK, and the proximity of the site to the rest of the South-East cluster, was too good an opportunity to miss.

This is one very visible example of the government’s support for science and technology in the UK. We have been fortunate that the funding has been healthy and maintained over the past few years. The government clearly recognises that science and medicine are a long game and has been very supportive of initiatives to grow the UK’s presence is areas such as biotech through seeding money and facilities.

“Living in an area where there is world class research makes it a great place to build your career” Jamie, Chemist

“Living in an area where there is world class research makes it a great place to build your career while at the same time bringing up a family.  It gives a sense of security to know that there are lots of opportunities in the area. Some of my friends from GSK are now working for Biotech companies nearby and they haven’t had to relocate to do it.” Jamie, Chemist

As part of this growing cluster all parties are beginning to see the advantages of co-location – close enough in some cases to walk in and out of each other’s premises; to have staff rotate into positions to get a different perspective; and close enough to form strong foundations that will sustain investment and attract other leaders in their fields to move to the area. The stronger the cluster, the stronger the individual entity. Clusters can become magnets for talent and expertise, which brings softer benefits such as a sense of belonging to a scientific community and the ability to move across the sectors.

Why struggle alone when you can work together? And why not capitalise on the proximity of academia, industry and biotech?

If we get this right the ultimate beneficiaries are ptients. Scientists, whichever direction they come from, whether it is academia, biotech or industry, all want to make a difference to people’s lives. Our learning is that GSK should be an integral part of bringing together others who have a common goal.

Do you have a Success Story to share?

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