The difference between the academy and the company

In the November issue of Life Science Leader, Patrick Vallance, leader of GSK Pharmaceuticals R&D, describes his transition from academia to industry and how that shaped his vision for R&D.  Here’s an excerpt:

“If you’d asked me the day before I decided to move to GSK, I would have said I absolutely had no intention of moving to industry,” he recalls. “I was a clinical academic. I saw patients. I ran a big department. I knew my next job would be running the medical school. I had been on the research advisory board for GSK for a couple of years, which was eye-opening for me both scientifically and in the way people thought about treating major medical problems.”

Resisting the offer at first, Vallance later thought, “I could spend the rest of my career doing academic research that might lead to drugs or even, as I was doing at the time, making molecules that interfere with biological processes — or I could go and do the real thing, seeing molecules all the way to becoming medicines. 

Vallance saw a potential opportunity in the industrial setting to create an advantage that eluded the academic world. At its best, GSK allowed all the different R&D disciplines — chemistry, biology, biopharmaceuticals, and so on — to interact in “an incredibly fluid way,” he says. “Getting all of those elements together to work as an integrated, multidisciplinary team is frankly the dream of a lot of people in academia, but it only seldom works.” Again, over time he looked for a way to make the concept even more effective in practice.

During the six years following his move to GSK, Vallance rose from head of drug discovery to senior vice president of medicines discovery and development, helping plan and implement the first major R&D reforms driven by Witty and Moncef Slaoui, now chairman, Global R&D & Vaccines. Those reforms began in discovery, involving the creation in 2008 of about 40 teams, consisting of 40 to 60 members, called Discovery Performance Units (DPUs), out of the six former disease- area units. The DPUs were designed to integrate disciplines even more effectively than did the preexisting company culture. They were also to echo a new “open-research” philosophy of external collaboration, by re-creating start-up-style innovation internally.”

You can read the full article here.