Thursday 13 June 2019 4:24 pm

GSK signs up gene-editing pioneers in drug discovery alliance

Pharmaceutical giant Glaxosmithkline (GSK) has struck a £67m deal with pioneers of a gene-editing technology to help it develop new drugs.

GSK, Britain’s largest drugmaker, will fund the new Laboratory for Genetics Research over five years. The lab will be jointly run with the University of California and researchers including professor Jennifer Doudna, a co-inventor of the Crispr gene-editing technology.

GSK shares initially rose 0.43 per cent to 1,590p on the news, but later levelled out.

Crispr works like molecular scissors, and can be used to remove and replace unwanted pieces of genetic matter. The technology hit the headlines last November after a Chinese scientist claimed to have “gene-edited” babies using it, to widespread condemnation.

The new lab will test irregularities in the human genome, tracking the malfunctions they trigger in cells. It is hoped this will help researchers gain a clearer understanding of the causes of cancers, as well as neurological and immunological diseases.

“Once we understand how that changes its function, we can think about how to mitigate that functional impairment and normalise the cell, and normalise, hopefully, the patient by just developing a drug that could prevent them from developing the disease,” said GSK’s chief scientific officer Hal Barron.

Researchers will be able to use the lab’s automation and heavy-duty computing facilities to analyse hundreds of millions of genetic combinations per experiment, Barron added.

GSK is not the only pharmaceutical company investing in the gene-editing technology. Both Bayer and Vertex have separately partnered with biotech firm Crispr Therapeutics.