GlaxoSmithKline has opened an ultra-high-throughput screening facility at its site in Tres Cantos, Spain, marking a significant milestone in the company's bid to develop a more industrialised approach to the process of drug discovery.
The Tres Cantos facility, situated outside Madrid, is the first of several large construction projects in a GSK programme of automating selected steps in drug discovery. A new facility will open in Harlow, UK, later this year and in Upper Providence, Pennsylvania, US, in 2004. Expansion of automation capabilities is also going forward at existing facilities in Stevenage, UK, and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, USA.
In total, an investment in excess of £70 million (€99m) will be made in new buildings, with a further £92m for technology to automate chemical synthesis, compound management and the screening of drug targets against compounds and for the design of the underpinning software.
GSK says its global uHTS programme will increase four-fold the capacity for experiments per year, whilst significantly reducing cost per experiment. Automation in chemistry and associated projects will optimise the quality and diversity of the GSK compound collection to speed the drug-discovery process, it adds, and the target is a two-year reduction on the time taken from first screen to the point in the R&D process where a drug candidate is progressed to development for clinical studies.
The Tres Cantos facility houses the latest in uHTS robotic systems and will be capable of doing 300,000 experiments a day, as well as housing the GSK compound library in an automated liquid compound store that can house up to 2.8 million individual samples.
"This isn't just about machines and new buildings. It is about accelerating the improvements we are already seeing in early R&D productivity and sustaining them for the years to come," commented Tadataka Yamada, GSK's chairman of R&D.
GSK noted that the need for the uHTS facility at Tres Cantos arises from the growing knowledge about the human genome, which promises a much larger array of drug targets, and from advanced techniques of chemical synthesis, which afford a vastly greater store of compounds to test for their capacity to bind and modify targets.