GlaxoSmithKline today opened a new high-throughput chemistry facility at its Harlow research centre in Essex, UK, that is hopes will allow it to cut down its drug development time by around two years.
The facility includes the largest chemistry lab in the UK, which, at 1600m2, occupies the same area as eight tennis courts. GSK is in the throes of a major effort to industrialise its drug discovery operations, recently investing in a huge ultra high-throughput screening facility in Spain.
Tadataka Yamada, chairman of R&D at the drug giant, noted that using a systematic high-throughput approach will improve productivity and quality at the start of drug discovery, reduce attrition in the later stages of development and cut the time it takes to bring a drug to market.
The new three-storey facility will house GSK's chemistry capability, with a particular emphasis on automated HTC, and was built and equipped at a cost of over £45 million (€65m). It will house four key components of GSK's drug discovery process: high-throughput chemistry, assay development, compound profiling and compound management.
In fact, Harlow becomes the storage centre for GSK's entire compound collection, home to vast automated compound stores with capacity for 1 million solid samples and 4 million frozen liquid samples.
"New molecules are the lifeblood of drug discovery; their storage and distribution are critical to all elements of the process, so this new facility is vitally important," commented Dr Peter Machin, senior vice president of Chemistry and Screening Sciences at GSK.
GSK spends over £1 billion on R&D each year in the UK, which is home to 40 per cent of GSK's global research effort.
Harlow is the second of three large construction projects in GSK's programme of automating selected steps in drug discovery, after the uHTS facility in Madrid. Another will begin operations in 2004 in Upper Providence, Pennsylvania, US, to support uHTS, HTC, automated compound management and assay development while expansion of automation capabilities has also been completed at existing facilities in Stevenage, UK, and Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.
Taken together, these automation projects are expected to increase screening productivity five-fold in GSK's Discovery Research division in the next five years.
In total, GSK is investing more than £70 million in new buildings, with a further £92 million 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 said that the need for the investment in automation arises from the growing knowledge about the human genome, which promises a suddenly 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 modulate targets. The company is scheduled to give an update on its R&D pipeline on 3 December.