translational medicines

Experimental medicine

At the world-leading Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, UK, our scientists are working with University of Cambridge researchers and clinicians to translate exploratory early research in to a potential new treatment for inflammatory lung disease.

The approach they’re taking to do this is an interesting one, because while the work is very early stage, and traditionally would have been limited to laboratory and animal research, we are already planning to look at the biological effects of one of our investigational medicines in a small group of patients.

To do this, the team is using state-of-the-art technology to study precisely how the treatment affects the chemical signs of the disease inside the body.

What is experimental medicine?

This relatively new, more targeted approach to testing medicines in patients is known as “experimental medicine” and it lies at the heart of a new alliance we’ve formed with the University of Cambridge and its partner hospitals.

Experimental medicine provides a valuable check-point in the R&D process, helping us gain greater confidence that an investigative medicine is doing what we expect it to in the human body. Demonstrating this proof-of-mechanism early provides greater certainty that we’re going in the right direction before committing to the large, lengthy and expensive clinical trials that are necessary to take a medicine all the way through development.

Early stage R&D has, until very recently, been limited to lab and animal-based research, curbing our ability to measure the true impact of a drug on human disease at that point in the development process. Currently, only around 10% of compounds entering clinical trials reach patients as medicines. This is often because either the biological target for a drug is not well understood, or the drug itself is not having the required effect on disease mechanisms.

But with recent technological advances, we’re now able to examine how different diseases behave in individual cells in the body, and the impact of potential new medicines on disease processes.

  • 10%

    Currently, only around 10% of compounds entering clinical trials reach patients as medicines

Investing more in experimental medicine is one of several ways we’re using new technology and scientific understanding to bring innovative new medicines to patients. Recognising that there’s a huge amount we can learn from experts outside our labs, we’re now involved in more collaborations than ever before, focused on understanding more about the causes of a broad range of illnesses, and sharing expertise and new technologies .

We believe that if we invest more time and resource in this earlier, “translational” stage of R&D, we’ll strengthen our ability to develop medicines that accurately target the processes in the body that cause disease. 

Our alliance with the University of Cambridge 

Our commitment to understanding more about the fundamental causes of disease and the impact of potential new treatments in the body is highlighted in the alliance we’ve formed with the University of Cambridge.

This collaboration, which we’ve recently backed with £10m funding, takes full advantage of the close proximity of our dedicated clinical research unit in Addenbrookes Hospital (Clinical Unit Cambridge) with both clinical academics and NHS doctors working in the hospital. This is key for experimental medicine studies, which depend on the close interaction of research scientists, clinicians and patients.

Paul-Peter, Senior Vice President and head of our Immuno-Inflammation R&D
Paul-Peter Tak, Head of Immuno-Inflammation at GSK and a lead on the Cambridge alliance

We believe that working alongside scientists from outside our labs is crucial to strengthening our understanding of human disease.

Paul-Peter continued, "The scientific community needs to embrace collaboration and share information about its successes and failures if we’re to accelerate the development of new treatments for patients.

“Our alliance with Cambridge University combines GSK’s drug development expertise with the research skills of the academic scientists based at this world leading hub for life sciences research. Centred around our own clinical trials unit located within the city’s main hospital, we’re perfectly placed to work together to translate cutting edge early stage science in to innovative new medicines.”

Professor Patrick Maxwell, Regius Professor of Physic at the University of Cambridge, said: “Our vision for the Cambridge Biomedical Campus is to pursue world-leading biomedical research and translate this into new or improved diagnostics and treatments. Key to this vision are partnerships with industry. 

Our collaboration with GSK builds on the strengths of each partner to create a relationship that is far greater than just the sum of its parts...

With six research projects already underway through this partnership and a further seven due to start before the end of 2015, we’re building on our existing links in Cambridge and forging relationships across the city’s thriving bioscience community.

We firmly believe that combining our drug development expertise with the world-leading academic science and medicine taking place in Cambridge will help us succeed in our mission to bring more innovative medicines to patients, more quickly.


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New technology informing our medicines development

Experimental medicine studies often employ state-of-the art technology to help scientists and doctors track the effect of a potential new medicine in patients’ bodies.

In the inflammatory lung disease study with the University of Cambridge, patients will be given bluetooth-enabled wireless sensors which monitor a number of different indicators of disease, including heart rate, levels of activity and the amount of oxygen in their bodies. Data will be automatically uploaded via patients’ smartphones to a cloud-based server and analysed by clinicians, enabling them to make informed decisions on the effectiveness and safety of the treatment, much earlier in the development process.

In another study within our Cambridge alliance, we’re exploring the potential of a new imaging technology to measure levels of a particular type of white blood cell which is known to play a central role in respiratory disease. If this technology is proven to be successful, it will allow for earlier and more reliable proof-of-efficacy and safety data for investigational medicines in this disease.