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Pharma giant teams up with CRISPR experts for drug discovery

17 June 2019
Appeared in BioNews 1002

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is to partner with leading researchers at the University of California to harness CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing to find new medicines.

The pharmaceutical giant is investing US$67 million over five years to set up a new lab in the San Francisco area in collaboration with CRISPR pioneer Professor Jennifer Doudna and Professor Jonathan Weissman, an expert on using genome editing to probe gene function.

They will recruit scientists for the new Laboratory for Genomics Research (LGR), with 24 researchers from the University of California, and GSK contributing up to 14 of its own employees. The idea will be to use genome editing to investigate how gene mutations contribute to disease.

Dr Hal Barron, GSK's chief scientific officer, told Science that he hoped by using CRISPR in cell and animal models, the scientists would be able to double the knowledge of genes with known functions.

'Think about the impact of that as being able to develop twice as many drugs,' Dr Barron told the magazine.

'One of our key goals is to advance the field overall and make these tools as broadly available as possible,' said Professor Weissman, who is based at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). 'The LGR screening centre will enable labs at UCSF and Berkeley, and having access to it will give our scientists opportunities to advance their research in ways that would be very hard for them to do in their own labs.'

Professor Doudna, at UC Berkeley, told Science: 'This is really, for us as academics, kind of a dream come true.'

The LGR will focus on immunology, oncology and neuroscience. GSK's artificial intelligence and machine learning group is also to be involved in developing computational tools to analyse data. GSK said in a statement that the aim of the LGR would be to 'automate existing CRISPR approaches so that this work can be done at scale'.

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