GSK exec stresses need to move away from 'fragmented' approach to drug delivery

GSK's Matthew Burke

BOSTON--Talking of breaking internal silos has become a corporate-speak cliche. But in a speech that could be described as brutally honest, GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) head of drug delivery nevertheless brought the importance of doing so to life during last week's Partnership Opportunities in Drug Delivery conference.

Matthew Burke repeatedly described the previous approach to drug delivery as "fragmented," something he intends to change as the leader of drug delivery at GSK. "This is a new role," he said, adding that the position "exemplifies the transformation at GSK in how we approach drug delivery."

Drug delivery at GSK is led by so-called discovery performance units that operate autonomously in an effort to create an entrepreneurial environment. But the approach has "essentially created a fragmented drug delivery effort across the company, where there are a lot of silos that are very effective at drug delivery, and that knowledge hasn't been transferred to other areas through the company that have similar challenges, but haven't been as successful in overcoming them," Burke said.

Another variation of the theme came later: "We have this fragmented, siloed approach, not sharing knowledge that we should, and therefore we're not having all the successes that we can have."

As an example, he pointed out that the previous centralized drug delivery initiative--disbanded in 2007--essentially failed. It produced three drug delivery breakthroughs, but "the reality is there was only one product that made it to market with one of these technologies, and that one had a lot of generic competition almost immediately."

The new goal is to pull all of the company's fragmented drug delivery efforts together in a cohesive fashion. The company is trying to move away from the "expert for hire" model--in which the drug delivery team was asked to rescue candidates facing drug delivery barriers--in favor of a "trusted partnerships" approach.

That means earlier engagements between the discovery and development sides of the organization around drug delivery, Burke said, for it would reduce the "timeline complexity with innovative drug delivery." Other speakers at the conference also said earlier engagement is needed. Otherwise new--and risky--drug delivery ideas are often ignored due because they would cause the project to miss its predetermined deadline.

In addition to a more centralized approach, GSK, like the rest of the industry, is increasingly looking externally for drug delivery partnerships and expertise, Burke said.

Three areas where GSK is looking for outside expertise over the next one to two years are technologies related to targeted delivery, crossing biobarriers--such as the blood-brain barrier, where the company wants at least a three-fold enhancement of blood-brain barrier penetration--and enhanced parenteral delivery, or administration via nonoral routes that bypass the GI tract, Burke said.

He offered a few more specific items on the GSK wish list, saying the company wants access to a "toolbox of ligands" to alter molecules' properties for drug delivery applications and is looking for a partnership that would enable it to test microneedle-based delivery on its assets.

Nanotechnology and oral delivery are out of favor at GSK, Burke said, adding "we're still interested in hearing about really revolutionary technologies in those spaces."

Overall, GSK will need to execute Burke's vision if it is to achieve the company's goal of leveraging innovative drug delivery technologies in 80% of its portfolio by 2020.

- here's the conference website