RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Dr. Hal Barron, Chief Scientific Officer and President of R&D at drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, sees genetics, functional genomics and artificial intelligence are rapidly changing the search for new products.

In a conference call with Wall Street analysts to discuss GSK’s most recent earnings, Barron was asked about the driving forces that might improve the effectiveness of R&D.

He cited:

  • Human genetic sequencing
  • Functional genomics
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning

These are already delivering results, Barron added.

Dr. Hal Barron (GSK photo)

“[W]e’ve already started seeing some interesting targets that were never identified previously,” he explained. “And we think that, because they’re driven really by using the human as the model organism if you will using human genetics and functional genomics, we think this could have a significant impact on our probability of success and therefore our productivity.”

Here are his comments:

“I think there’s no question that the R&D organizations across pharma could benefit from improvements in productivity. And I would say the focus for us is being driven by the observation that only about one in 10 molecules that enter the clinic actually ends up becoming a medicine and helping patients. And we’re pretty focused on seeing if we can increase that substantially,” Barron explained according to a transcript of the call provided by financial news site SeekingAlpha.

“And the three technologies that we have identified that we believe will improve this dramatically, potentially is human genetics and – with the reduction in the cost of sequencing as well as a number of people and patients who’ve been signing up for various sequencing opportunities such as 23andMe where we have now millions of patients, who’ve donated their generic information to help us understand better targets. We think it’s going to be a very important technology.

“In addition functional genomics, which is essentially taking that genetic data and being able to understand what does it really mean, what are the structural variants telling us about human disease could also enable us to find much, much better targets.

“And given how massive these data sets can become when you do all these technologies, we really do believe that machine learning and artificial intelligence apply to these highly dimensional data sets can unravel the biology in a pretty profound way.

“And all three of these are growing in sophistication. ”

GSK maintains an R&D operation in RTP and operates a manufacturing plant in Zebulon. GSK also is the majority owner of ViiV Healthcare, which has a large research operation in the Triangle.

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