GlaxoSmithKline has joined other Big Pharma players such as Pfizer in stepping up research and development in the fast-growing oncology segment.

The creation of the GSK R&D Oncology Unit continues the realignment of the company’s R&D organisation, announced in July, that saw the introduction of new, smaller Drug Performance Units (DPUs) within GSK’s existing Centres of Excellence for Drug Discovery (CEDD).

This time, though, the emphasis is on consolidation rather than deconstruction. The new set-up will combine DPUs within the existing oncology CEDD and a “highly specialised drug development group” to create a dedicated oncology research and development organisation led by Dr Paulo Paoletti, senior vice president, oncology research and development.

The idea of bringing these two functions together is to “capture the many synergies that exist between discovery and development in oncology” by creating an “end-to-end R&D unit”, Paoletti explained. “The application of translational medicine will bring about significant enhancements to the R&D group via the ‘bench to bed connection’ – the constant loop and flow of information from early- to late-stage development, and vice-versa,” he added.

One area in which this kind of feedback could prove valuable, Paoletti told The Wall Street Journal, was in the emergence of genetic insights during clinical trials, such as biomarkers of responsiveness to treatment, that could help discovery scientists to isolate better targeted compounds from the outset.

“GSK has designed this new organisation to help us increase the breadth and depth of our core oncology knowledge, in order to ultimately deliver more innovative medicines that enhance cancer patients’ lives,” Paoletti stated.

According to Moncef Slaoui, GSK’s chairman, research and development, the oncology unit “is directly aligned with our R&D strategy to deliver more products of value, and will help us increase our efforts towards personalised medicine in oncology”.

The organisation’s main goals will be to identify new targets and pathways, conduct innovative clinical research and boost development capacity cost-effectively to deliver the unit’s “large portfolio” of medicines.