University of Dundee

GSK and CLS begin collaboration to develop therapies for rare genetic skin disorders

29 Jun 2011

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee have entered into an agreement to combine the pharmaceutical company’s expertise in discovering and developing new medicines with the researcher’s expertise in rare and debilitating skin disorders under GSK’s Discovery Partnerships with Academia initiative.  

The aim of the collaboration with Irwin McLean, Professor of Human Genetics and Head of Molecular Medicine at the College of Life Sciences in Dundee, is to develop new treatments for Recessive Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa (RDEB), a rare condition where the skin and other surfaces of the body can develop deep blisters with even mild pressure.  

Professor McLean is an authority in inherited diseases of the skin, including in RDEB and filaggrin deficiency-associated diseases including eczema. His research with the Drug Discovery Unit at CLS, Dundee has already demonstrated that the underlying biological process causing these diseases can be modified by compounds, opening up the possibility of new treatments for patients.

This new alliance model from GSK focuses on making a medicine, rather than supporting basic research, allowing the drug discovery capabilities of GSK to be applied to academic research at an early stage.  The success of the project is dependent on contributions from both parties, with GSK undertaking screening, medicinal chemistry, preclinical work and clinical development, and Professor McLean’s team, in conjunction with the Drug Discovery Unit, characterising arising compounds in a range of specialised biological assays to facilitate translation into the clinic.

“This new approach allows everyone to utilise their strengths and expertise,” said Dr Patrick Vallance, Senior Vice-President and Head of Medicines Discovery & Development at GSK.  “We are excited to be working in this innovative integrated approach, where Professor McLean’s extensive biological knowledge of these rare genetic diseases can be applied to this project throughout its progression.”

Under the terms of the agreement, the University will receive financial support from GSK linked to reaching agreed milestones, as well as an undisclosed upfront payment and royalties on sales from any product that is successfully commercialised out of the collaboration. 

“Genetics and dermatology research at the University of Dundee over the past 20 years has uncovered the faulty genes for many skin conditions, including rare, very severe skin blistering diseases such as epidermolysis bullosa (EB) and more common conditions such as eczema,” said Irwin McLean, Professor of Human Genetics and Head of the Division of Molecular Medicine at Dundee.  

“We feel very excited and privileged to have established one of the first Discovery Partnerships with GSK, which gives us great hope that we can turn our discoveries into  medicines for use in patients as quickly as possible."

Professor Pete Downes, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Dundee, said, “This new deal with GSK vindicates our strategy to invest in translational medicine. In order to innovate, universities need partners to develop ideas towards products and new technologies to bridge the gap between blue skies research and proof of concept. This collaboration builds on Irwin McLean's groundbreaking research and offers us the opportunity of bridging that gap.”

Paul Wyatt, Professor of Drug Discovery and Head of the Drug Discovery Unit at the College of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, said, “It is very exciting to have the Drug Discovery Unit working with Professor McLean’s group to translate his basic research to a point where it is of interest to a major pharmaceutical company. We see this as the validation of the model of our many ongoing interactions with research groups in Dundee and beyond.”