GSK Enters CRISPR Alliance with the University of California to Accelerate Discovery of Treatments for Genetic Diseases

Rare Daily Staff

GlaxoSmithKline said it has entered into a five-year collaboration with the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, San Francisco to establish a lab that will apply CRISPR gene editing technology to explore how gene mutations cause disease.

Through the use of CRISPR, scientists can capitalize on the proliferation of human genetic data to determine how changes in a person’s genetic makeup can increase the risk of diseases. The hope is by using this technology at a large scale, researchers will be able to discover and develop novel therapies that have a higher likelihood of becoming medicines.

The new Laboratory for Genomics Research (LGR) will receive up to $67 million over a five-year period, which will include funds to build facilities for 24 full-time university employees plus up to 14 full-time GSK employees. The lab will focus on immunology, oncology, and neuroscience. The lab will be based near the UCSF Mission Bay campus in San Francisco.

The creation of the lab came from discussions between Jennifer Doudna, a co-inventor of CRISPR technology and UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology and of chemistry; Jonathan Weissman, a UCSF pioneer of CRISPR screening technology; and Hal Barron, the chief scientific officer and president for R&D at GSK.

GSK’s artificial intelligence and machine learning group will build necessary computational pipelines to analyze all of the data. The LGR aims to automate and scale up existing CRISPR approaches. The ultimate goal is to deepen understanding of genetics and discover new targets, and to create next-generation technologies that will become future standard practice in the pharmaceutical industry.

“Technology is key to our innovation strategy at GSK, and CRISPR is one of the most important technologies of our time,” Barron said. “With the expertise of Jennifer and Jonathan helping to steer the LGR, the mission of the lab is to advance our scientific understanding of the relationship between genes and disease to help find better medicines faster.”

The LGR will have academic and industrial researchers working alongside each other. They will focus on technologies, new drug targets, and biological mechanisms. The lab will also be available to investigators at UC Berkeley and UCSF for their own biomedical research and to develop new tools that explore how genes work.

“Over the last seven years, CRISPR has transformed academic research, but until the LGR, we haven’t had a focused effort to catalyze the kind of research we know will lead to new innovation using this CRISPR tool,” said Doudna. “LGR is about building that space where creative science is partnered with the development of robust technology that will help develop tomorrow’s drugs. I think we’re going to be able to do science that none of us can even imagine today.”

The collaboration will be governed by a joint steering committee with equitable UC and GSK representation, with additional joint sub-committees covering patents, and scientific and project management. Doudna and Weissman will be members of the steering committee, together with GSK’s new head of functional genomics, Chris Miller, who just joined GSK from AbbVie.

Photo: Jennifer Doudna of UC Berkeley and Jonathan Weissman UCSF by Barbara Ries UCSF

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