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GlaxoSmithKline R&D Chairman visits Taiwan

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- In 2006, the research and development arm of British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) began undergoing a transformative process, creating smaller but more efficient units to drive the discovery and development of new medicines. Between 2009 and 2013, the company delivered 10 new medicines, five times the amount of new medicines that it delivered in twice the number of years between 1998 and 2006. In 2013, it delivered five new medicines, the highest number in the industry's history in any given year. Behind this success story is Dr. Moncef Slaoui, GSK's Chairman of R&D, who recently visited Taiwan to learn more about the scientific work being carried out on the island.

Slaoui sat down with The China Post during his two-day visit to speak about the trends in pharmaceutical R&D, the prospects of commercialized bioelectronics, as well as possible areas of collaboration between his company and Taiwan-based R&D institutions.

"I think we will see more and more investments in immune-inflammatory research programs. There will also continue to be great progress and investments in oncology ... and I think areas like dermatology and ophthalmology are also going to benefit from progress in immunology, because the disease of the skin and the eye are primarily driven by the immune system. Those are the trends in terms of areas (that will see) more investments," Slaoui said.

The Chairman added that an increased amount of R&D resources will also be dedicated to evidence generation for access to potentially life-saving therapies and prevention.

"In the past, we used to allocate almost all of the resources in R&D to doing studies that the regulatory agencies require to approve a medicine. Now we will have to do those studies plus other studies that the payers, for instance, require to provide access," Slaoui said.

When asked if GSK has been shifting focus away from discovery to development, the Chairman replied, "No. We have had great success in discovery, which creates many projects moving into development; therefore, a larger fraction of our resources were naturally allocated to development projects. (However,) we haven't taken away our focus from discovery, which remains the lifeline of R&D."

Future Trends: Bioelectronics, Electroceuticals

One of the areas in the pharmaceutical industry that has generated a lot of buzz is bioelectronics.

"One of the questions that I think all heads of R&D in large pharmaceutical companies should ask themselves is one of sustainability over time. How many more medicines are we going to be able to discover and develop using the same modalities that we have today, which is chemistry (and/or) molecular biology.

"We asked ourselves this question about two and a half years ago, challenging ourselves to see if there are other modalities that would open up new horizons ... and when we thought about it, we realized that when we use chemical structure or recombinant protein as a medicine, what we use in fact are the structures of these medicines to interact with the structure of a receptor or protein in our body ... Our body uses structure to communicate with biology, but it also uses electrical impulses which go through our nerves. So we asked the question: 'Can we use electrical impulses to modify the way organs function?'" Slaoui said.

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