Investing in innovative approaches to transform how drugs are developed

Imagine dedicating years or even decades of your life to a project with the hope that it could change people’s lives, only to find out in the end that your concept doesn’t work...that’s what it’s like to work in pharmaceutical R&D.


For every 10 investigational medicines that enter human trials, on average, only one will result in an approved medicine. Most of these failures are due to lack of efficacy – the investigational medicine simply doesn’t work as expected. This is disappointing not only to the scientists and the company that invested extensive time and resources into research and development but, more importantly, also to patients who are depending on us to find new treatments.

So how can a pharmaceutical company shorten its drug development time and improve its success rate? One way is through better target validation in early-stage discovery.

We are taking a bold step in an attempt radically to change the way new medicines are developed. Today we announced that we are launching the Altius Institute for Biomedical Sciences in Seattle. The aim of the Institute is to develop transformative technologies that will provide deep insight into how a cell’s genome controls its function in health and disease and to translate these insights into clinical settings. We expect that this improved understanding will enhance the selection and validation of better drug targets and accelerate many key aspects of drug development.

Developing and applying new technologies will be key to increasing efficiency and reducing attrition rates. New genetic technologies, for example, may allow us to evaluate how a potential drug will affect the ‘operating systems’ of cells and tissues by testing it on human cells in petri dishes rather than having to wait until we reach the human trials phase. Additionally, clinical translation of gene regulation science should help us match the right target to the right disease and the right patient.

It can take a decade or more and around $1 billion to progress a medicine from discovery to the clinic. The approaches and technologies that Altius will be pursuing will have broad applications, particularly for identifying and validating drug targets early on so that later we won’t experience that high rate of failure. We just need to move the needle a little bit for the rewards to be great, both to patients and in terms of the time and costs associated with drug discovery and development.
— Lon Cardon, SVP of Alternative Discovery and Development at GSK

This Institute, a non-profit entity which is completely independent from GSK, will be led by Dr. John Stamatoyannopoulos , an internationally-recognized leader in gene regulation research and Professor of Genome Sciences and Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. It is expected to open later this year.