The Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation, a new public-private initiative between GSK, the European Bioinformatics Institute and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, will apply expertise in genomics, big-data analysis, disease biology and translational medicine in a pre-competitive collaboration aimed at improving success rates in early drug discovery.

Dr Ewan Birney, associate director and senior scientist at the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), has been appointed interim head of the Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation (CTTV), which will be based on the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus near Cambridge, UK. 

It will be supported by up to 50 researchers from the three founding organisations, who will have access to EMBL-EBI’s Innovation and Translation suite and the laboratories of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

The initiative includes a multi-million pound contribution from GSK to fund an initial wave of projects, as well as significant input from each of the three founding organisations in the form of resources, skills and platform technologies.


A key feature of the collaboration is that the partners have agreed to share sequence data and information gathered within the CTTV “to benefit the broader scientific community”, once basic quality-control checks have been run to ensure consistency with the data-sharing guidelines of EMBL-EBI and the Sanger Institute.

The Centre also intends to publish data and information arising from CTTV projects in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Moreover, once the initiative is fully established, the partners will “actively seek to attract new interest from other companies and academic institutions in the centre with the aim of expanding its activities”, they noted.

“The pre-competitive nature of the centre is critical,” Birney commented, adding that the collaborative relationship “allows us to make the most of commercial R&D practice, but the data and information will be available to everyone”.

Understanding targets

As the partners explain, target validation means “clearly defining the role that a biological process plays in disease before developing a new drug to tackle it”.

As things stand, an estimated 90 per cent of compounds entering clinical trials fail to demonstrate the necessary efficacy and safety, they point out, and this is “often because the biological target for a drug is not well understood”.

The CTTV researchers will pool their expertise to explore and interpret large volumes of data from genomics, proteomics, chemistry and disease biology.

This will complement existing methods of target validation, including analysis of published research on known biological processes, preclinical animal modelling and studying disease epidemiology.

The Sanger Institute will contribute to the Centre its understanding of the role of genetics in health and disease, while EMBL-EBI will provide bioinformatics-led insights into the data collected, as well as data-integration capabilities.

GSK will add to the mix its expertise in disease biology, translational medicine and drug discovery.

“The UK leads the fields of genome sequencing and bioinformatics and I am delighted that GSK has the opportunity to collaborate with two of its premier research institutions,” said the company’s president of pharmaceuticals R&D, Patrick Vallance.