GlaxoSmithKline builds AI team with another hire from biotech hotbed


With less than 10% of the industry’s experimental medicines making their way to the market, Glaxo is focusing on new technologies like AI to make prospecting for the next billion-dollar products quicker and more efficient. — Reuters

With less than 10% of the industry’s experimental medicines making their way to the market, Glaxo is focusing on new technologies like AI to make prospecting for the next billion-dollar products quicker and more efficient. — Reuters

GlaxoSmithKline Plc lured another executive from California’s biotech hotbed in a bid to step up its artificial intelligence efforts and revitalise drug research. 

Kim Branson will oversee the use of AI to find novel targets for potential medicines, where Glaxo believes the technology can have the biggest impact, the London-based drugmaker said. Branson is the latest top manager Glaxo has recruited from Roche Holding AG’s Genentech unit, based in San Francisco. 

With Emma Walmsley at the helm for the past two years, Glaxo has sought to overhaul its research strategy and change the perception of the company as a laggard in developing cutting-edge drugs. With less than 10% of the industry’s experimental medicines making their way to the market, Glaxo is focusing on new technologies like AI to make prospecting for the next billion-dollar products quicker and more efficient. 

“The most impactful way any company will change its performance is making the timelines shorter, the costs lower and the probability of success higher,” Walmsley said in an interview. 

The pharma company is tapping AI and machine learning to harness huge amounts of data, trying to predict better targets for potential drugs and the ideal patients for clinical trials. Those technologies provide “a real chance of improving the productivity of an R&D organisation”, she said. 

Glaxo research chief Hal Barron, a cancer-drug specialist with close links to California’s health and technology sectors, spent 17 years at Genentech and Roche earlier in his career. Since he joined Glaxo in early 2018, the British pharma giant has raised its profile in San Francisco and made key hires among Roche veterans. 

Before bringing Branson on board in April, Barron poached Genentech’s Kevin Sin as head of business development for R&D. Shobie Ramakrishnan, who previously worked at drugmakers including Genentech, is now the top digital officer at Glaxo’s pharma unit, the company said. 

While companies are using AI in areas from manufacturing to clinical trials, its potential in R&D is generating the most investment and activity as pharma companies seek to boost productivity and cope with rising development costs, according to a report last year from consulting firm Novasecta Ltd. Sanofi last month agreed to collaborate with Alphabet Inc’s Google to take advantage of its AI and cloud-computing capabilities. 

Glaxo already has agreements to collaborate on AI with partners including Exscientia Ltd. Tackling the industry’s low success rate for new drug development, Glaxo last year formed a partnership with genetic-testing company 23andMe Inc to harness genetic data to find new drug targets and better select patients for clinical studies. – Bloomberg