GSK's New R&D Culture Forces Research Chiefs to Hustle for Support

Of all the Big Pharmas anxiously attempting to reinvent the way they discover and develop new drugs, few if any have been as ambitious about creating a new R&D culture as GlaxoSmithKline (NYS: GSK) . After watching its big, multibillion-dollar development machine lurch to a slow, halting grind, CEO Andrew Witty and his two top research heads -- Moncef Slaoui and Patrick Vallance -- conspired to shake things up by divvying up the research staff into Discovery Performance Units, which would be expected to compete for resources and focus on a small set of projects, much like a biotech.

Bloomberg's been following their advance, which is hitting a crucial three-year milestone as all the DPUs make a case for GSK's continued support. And it's interesting to hear the company's researchers talk about new approaches to sharing everything from tissue samples to credit for significant advances when the DPUs collaborate among themselves.

Research teams tell the business news service that they've succeeded in cutting down the time they take between committing to a program and launching trials; human tissue is preferred in preclinical work over animal tissue; and one good organ can get passed around in hours as DPUs hustle for a slice. In this next review process, some DPU chiefs aren't expected to make it to Round 2.

"One or two we've stepped down, they didn't quite meet expectations," Vallance tells Bloomberg. "One of them is doing a brilliant job in another capacity now and may well find himself stepping back up again." At least one has also been recruited, by J&J, and Vallance adds that VCs and others are also paying close attention to these biotech chieftains, some of whom may one day get a chance to use their new skills at new companies.

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