Drugmakers start your engines: GSK's Formula One discovery formula

By Gareth Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

GSK favours Formula One for discovery technologies
GSK favours Formula One for discovery technologies
GSK has asked Formula One team Mclaren to help it discover drugs, arguing that Big Data expertise from outside the contract research sector can accelerate its efforts to develop new blockbuster meds.

This week​ the UK drugmaker announced that Mclaren had helped it increase output at an inhaler manufacturing plant in Ware, Hertfordshire by applying the principles it uses in Grand Prix pit lanes to changeovers in the drugmakers production operations.

But this is not the limit of the collaboration according to GSK spokeswoman Sarah Hornby, who told Outsourcing-pharma.com the drugmaker asked the racing team to rev up its discovery operations using tech more at home in Monaco, Monza or even on the M25 than the research lab.

Discovery is very data dependant and involves searching through millions of molecules to find potential drugs​” Hornby said, adding that this is where Mclaren can help GSK.

Formula one cars have as a many as 500 sensors that can receive up to three data points per second during races. The Mclaren team is able to quickly visualise this information to find out what’s going on​” she said.

GSK and Mclaren’s applied technology group are using this data analysis knowhow to develop a platform capable of rapidly assessing potential candidate medicines in the drugmakers’ library to help guide R&D spending.

The project is still in the pilot phase, according to Hornby who said that it is too early to predict when the platform technology they are developing will be used to identify the first potential GSK medicine.

Outside the sector

Drug discovery and candidate services are seeing an upswing in demand as drugmakers try to refill product pipelines.

This trend is driving services firms to invest in such technology, with Charles River Lab’s announcement of plans to buy Argenta and Biofocus this month​ and Eurofins’ acquisition of Merck Millipore’s discovery assets​ being among the most recent examples.

So why, with those firms and others like Horizon​, Harlan​ and Crown Bioscience​ already providing the drug industry with discovery services, did one of the biggest drugmakers in the world ask a motor racing team to help it identify potential products?   

The good news is that it was not because GSK thought the available systems were lacking according to Hornby, who said instead that the UK Big Pharma firm team with Mclaren to (fuel) inject some fresh ideas into its discovery efforts.

By looking outside the contract research sector, beyond the normal, you introduce new ideas and innovations​” she said, adding that the Mclaren applied technology team has already used its data analysis knowhow to help a London hospital and Heathrow airport improve operations.

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