Discovery Fast Track: A fresh approach to industry-academic partnerships

Our robotic librarian can quickly locate any molecule for testing by our assay scientists. This is the process that winners of the Discovery Fast track competition will use for testing their compounds.

 

One of the biggest threats to global security is invisible to the human eye: bacteria invulnerable to today’s antibiotics. Dr. Sarah Ades, Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State University’s Eberly College of Science, is on the front lines searching for compounds for a new generation of antibiotics to combat this threat.

A year ago, her project was at a standstill. She had developed an assay in conjunction with collaborators at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, and validated it in a pilot screen. But before she could proceed with a larger screen, the NIH program she was relying on changed direction.

She was about to shelve the project when, one day while reading the College of Science’s weekly email newsletter, she learned about GSK’s Discovery Fast Track competition. She’d never seriously considered working with industry but decided to give it a shot.

Today, Sarah’s glad she entered. She and seven other researchers in the US and Canada were announced as winners of our inaugural contest, which rewards investigators with access to GSK’s proprietary high-throughput chemical library of 1.8 million compounds.

The experience made me think more and harder about incorporating and answering questions that are more relevant to translational research.
— Dr. Sarah Ades, Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State University’s Eberly College of Science

But she’s discovering that the program is about much more than access to screening. She sees that the collaboration will give her tools to advance her basic research to study systems in different organisms and better understand how they work. And if she does find compounds that could serve as antibiotics, it could open up a whole new world for her, one that she didn’t have access to as an academic.

GSK’s Discovery Fast Track competition is a fresh approach to pairing industry and academia based on their respective strengths. The academic world has invested heavily in biomedical research—and they’ve placed those bets broadly across the table. Industry brings the tools and expertise in drug discovery and development.

What we’re trying to do is find the overlap where pharma can bring our strengths—screening, know-how, all of our technologies—and apply them to problems that academics have defined and refined over the years to the point that the problem is ready to be solved by these technologies.

The selected scientists will collaborate with our Discovery Partnerships with Academia (DPAc) team to rapidly screen and identify novel compounds to test their promising hypotheses. If advanced chemical testing is successful, the winning investigators could be offered a DPAc partnership to further refine molecules and assess their potential as novel new medicines.  

Even though the results of the screen won’t be known until mid-2014, Sarah says that entering the competition has already paid off. Working with GSK staff pushed her to think about her research in a different light. She realized that the program isn’t just about drug development; it’s already helped to shape how she thinks about the basic science.

"The experience made me think more and harder about incorporating approaches and answering questions that are more relevant to translational research. These approaches will enhance my basic science and help me move along the path from the lab to the clinic,” said Sarah.

Congratulations to all of the winners:

Sarah Ades, PhD, Pennsylvania State University:  A novel approach for an anti-microbial agent class of antibiotic for gram negative bacteria

Myles Akabas, MD, PhD, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University: A novel approach for new treatments for malaria

Lauren Brown, Ph.D., and Scott Schaus, PhD, Boston University and Jim McKerrow, MD, PhD, University of California, San Francisco: A novel approach for new treatments for leishmaniasis

Rahul Kohli, MD, PhD, University of Pennsylvania: A novel approach for the design of antibiotics to overcome clinical resistance

Richard Leduc, PhD, Université de Sherbrooke: A novel approach for new treatments for iron overload diseases

Deborah O’Brien, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: A novel approach to regulation of male fertility

John Sondek, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: A novel approach for new treatments for metastatic epithelial cancers

Harvard Medical School.  Winner’s name and area of science will not be announced.