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Inside the Open Lab

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21 September 2018

The Tres Cantos Open Lab offers top international scientists and academics the opportunity to pursue their own projects as part of an integrated team.

The biggest surprise for me was the openness. I thought I would be put in a cubicle and not encouraged to speak.

That idea, together with the angst that big pharma would want to claim rights to her research findings, had been Thulasi’s preconceptions before she began her secondment in our Open Lab at Tres Cantos in Spain in 2014. But within days of arriving from New York’s Weill Cornell Medical College, Thulasi realised that quite the reverse is true. The Open Lab does what it says on the tin.

Thulasi was among the first wave of external investigators to join the Open Lab, part of our open innovation strategy which is designed to increase the number of researchers working on diseases of the developing world on a genuine, no-strings-attached basis.

Ruben, a senior scientist working in the tuberculosis imaging laboratory at Tres Cantos, Madrid

The Tres Cantos Open Lab offers top international scientists and academics the opportunity to pursue their own projects as part of an integrated team. Researchers are able to access GSK’s expertise, processes, and industrial-scale infrastructure as part of a collaborative approach to drug discovery.

Thulasi arrived from Weill Cornell Medical College, renowned for its advances in tuberculosis (TB) research. She spent a year at the Open Lab facility trying to identify those compounds which inhibit biochemical pathways that are vulnerable even when the bacterium becomes ‘dormant’ in human cells. Becoming dormant is a strategy the bacterium adapts that contributes to a persistent TB infection.

We introduced a different kind of test to the Open Lab that mimicked the bacterial conditions inside a cell so that we could work on the non-replicating, or dormant, part of the TB life cycle

“Targeting dormancy is the key to shortening treatment time because most of the existing therapies target actively replicating bacteria,” added Thulasi.

Thulasi’s work was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The majority of the projects are supported by the Tres Cantos Open Lab Foundation, a charity established with £5 million in seed funding from GSK to support suitable research. In October 2012, GSK announced a further £5 million of funding for the Foundation, followed by an additional £5m committed in September 2018.

To date, more than 250 research proposals have been evaluated, 65 projects have been approved and 80 Open Lab scientists have been trained in global health drug discovery in an industrial setting. A significant pipeline of candidate medicines has been delivered through this model – including a novel TB drug candidate with treatment shortening potential. Other projects underway include innovative research into malaria, Chagas disease, leishmaniasis and sleeping sickness.

Scientist in a respiratory manufacturing plant

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