Thursday, October 15, 2009

GSK In Tune with Lilly's Chorus on Cheap-to-PoC Idea

Most of you will have heard of Lilly's Chorus initiative, designed to drive compounds through to proof-of-concept as cheaply and quickly as possible. (If you haven't, read this.) Less well-publicized is GlaxoSmithKline's own discovery-on-a-budget experiment, known as VPoC, or Virtual Proof-of-Concept.

The six-person operation, conceived and run by SVP, Molecular Discovery Allen Oliff, MD, is actually a drug performance unit (DPU), set up 18 months ago at the same time as the other two dozen or so biotech-like-units that now comprise GSK R&D.

Oliff reckons the VPoC can produce PoC compounds--three of them in three years, to be precise--"at substantially lower cost" than in standard R&D. That's thanks at least in part thanks to "entirely out-sourced" activities including chemistry, running assays, drug metabolism and PK experiments and some clinical work, most of which occurs in China and India.

It also helps that GSK doesn't pay for the assets it puts through VPoC; they're either created using standard chemistry on targets taken from the literature, or they're de-prioritized GSK assets. The unit has selected three of the latter (out of many hundreds that were shelved) and is also working on five targets identified outside. As such, "we aren't licensing anything; we don't want to pay royalties or milestones," Oliff emphasizes. Like Chorus, VPoC--based at GSK's R&D site in Upper Providence, Pennsylvania--also saves money by being small, flexible and efficient.

The big question surrounding all these low-cost discovery initiatives is of course whether they simply push costs further downstream by doing less pre-PoC. (After all, if cheaper discovery was that easy, why isn't everyone doing it?) Oliff insists not. "We progress assets reasonably quickly, in a standard format, without cutting corners," he told The IN VIVO Blog.

The proof of the pudding will come when--and if, and how quickly--VPoC assets progress to the Medicines Development Centers (the DPU's 3-year objective also specifies two 'commit-to-Medicines Development' assets). Oliff hopes to deliver 'at least one, hopefully more' PoC assets as soon as next year.

Perhaps he's right to be optimistic. Chorus appears to have delivered; in fact it's been so successful that Lilly's Gino Santini, SVP Corporate Strategy & Policy, declared at Elsevier's Pharmaceutical Strategic Alliances conference last month that it was being cloned 'in India, and Indianapolis'. Meanwhile other large pharma have hinted at similar efforts to start fast-to-failure development A-Teams. And Flexion--created in 2007 by Chorus' founders to provide the same 'fast 'n cheap' treatment to non-Lilly assets--appears to be gaining ground.

If VPoC delivers, no doubt GSK will follow suit--and it probably won't be the only one.

image by flikrer NgKKh used under a creative commons license

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

*Sigh*. There are only so many corners you can cut