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Combining genetics and tech to double success rates for patients

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24 August 2021

Harnessing the insights of tomorrow to make better medicines today

At GSK, we don’t want to just find new, better medicines and vaccines – we want to get better at finding them, in ways that are faster and more effective. One way we’re approaching this challenge is by combining the power of genetic and genomic insights with the speed and scale of artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI-ML). When combined, these three elements – genetics, genomics, and AI-ML – can ultimately help us predict more about human health, and develop better medicines for the future.

We have an incredible team of experts driving this program, but even the best people can’t do their work without the proper tools. That’s why we’ve equipped our scientists with an in-house, state-of-the-art AI hub, dedicated to using predictive modeling for drug discovery. Since 2019, our GSK team has been unlocking the potential of rich genetic data through predictive modeling with patient benefit at the centre. And as we’re learning new things about biology every day, we’re integrating insights from genetics and genomics with the power of AI-ML – allowing us to learn and do more than we ever imagined possible. Working with partners at the cutting edge of these fields, we aim to double our developmental success rate and bring more effective medicines and vaccines to people around the world.

Unlocking the potential of humanity’s infinite library: Genetics and Genomics

Genetic data lets us break down every aspect of who we are as humans, from eye colour to the markers of different health conditions, so we can understand the underlying code behind it. And thanks to human ingenuity and years of hard work within and outside of GSK, the field of functional genomics now helps us understand what that code does and how it interacts inside the body, in the world, and in response to disease. Patterns in this data have the potential to help us identify and evaluate avenues for medical exploration.

Professor Fyodor Urnov, in the Molecular and Cell Biology Department at the University of California, Berkeley, an institution partnering with GSK in this endeavour said “CRISPR is the first tool that we have ever had in the history of biomedicine to not only uncover those treasures in human DNA but also act on them.”

Human DNA bears the imprint of three-plus billion years of evolution. It never ceases to amaze us, just how big a treasure trove human genetic variation is.

Professor Fyodor Urnov, in the Molecular and Cell Biology Department at the University of California, Berkeley


Patient-centric predictive modeling: AI-ML

Among the billions of individual data points and genetic interactions, there exists an infinite number of possible pathways we could investigate. Given the complexity of this data, we need more advanced tools to help us analyse it at scale. That’s where AI comes in, to help us separate the relevant from the interesting.

Dr. Fiona Behan, a Scientific Leader of Functional Genomics at GSK and former cancer researcher at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, sums up the promise of these tools perfectly. “Before, we knew what genes were, but not what they were doing,” Behan says. “It could take scientists decades focusing on a single gene to figure out the function. But by combining functional genomics experimental approaches with AI and ML, we can often figure that out in a couple of months.” She adds, “The reason I do what I do [in the field of functional genomics] is to transform patients’ lives.”

With our in-house AI hub, we’re using ML to unlock the potential of complex genetic data with never-before-seen levels of speed, precision, and scale. Every model we build, run, or test deepens our understanding, and creates a compounding, near-infinite feedback loop of experimental possibilities. Ultimately, the use of AI improves predictions, viability, and the speed at which we can bring investigational medicines and vaccines from the lab to the clinic, and most importantly to patients.

At GSK, we believe that the predictive power of AI and genetics holds the key to improving research and development. Kim Branson, Global Head of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning at GSK, also looks to the past. “We have a history of everything that [humans have] experienced in our genes…and we now have the tech to read the language of the history in our genome, make comparisons, and test hypotheses.”

Hear more from Kim Branson about using models to gather data and create stackable knowledge for future generations. Listen to the Creativity Equation Podcast: Collective Knowledge.

The answer to some of our diseases is carried in all of us. We have a history of everything that [humans have] experienced in our genes…and we now have the tech to read the language of the history in our genome, make comparisons, and test hypotheses.

Kim Branson, Global Head of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Our people and partnerships steering great science

At GSK, we give our scientists the freedom to own the process and steer research where genetic data shows the most promising avenues for drug discovery. But even with the knowledge, tools, and resources within GSK, we know we can’t do it all alone.

That’s why we’re increasingly partnering with and hiring outstanding people from the cutting edge of fields within and outside pharma, like tech, biotech, data-science, and academia, including:

  • 23andMe
  • Laboratory for Genomics Research /UC-Berkeley and UCSF
  • The Broad Institute
  • UK BioBank
  • NVIDIA
  • Cerebras

By bringing together the best and brightest from across disciplines, we can create a more integrated process that’s even greater than the sum of its parts.  

By harnessing the power of new partnerships, practices, and perspectives, we can solve problems to help people do more, feel better, and live longer.

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