Blog post by Dr. Phil Murphy, Head, Experimental Medicine Imaging GlaxoSmithKline R&D

Drug development is shifting ever more towards ever more informed clinical development- learning about fundamental aspects of drug action early to reduce later stage failure. To enable this shift we need better clinical tools. For example, we need methods to tell us whether a drug reaches the right tissue or whether the drug has altered the disease process. Imaging encompasses a broad suite of tools able to address these knowledge gaps but only if we can successfully guide cutting edge techniques towards application in clinical trials.

We’ve been using imaging within pharma for many years, for example, studying tumour size response in oncology trials. Whilst these structural measurements remain important, we continue to explore more specific and sensitive endpoints through advanced functional and molecular methods. At the same time as the demand within pharma for better trial tools has increased we see so many new methods with the potential to help us. So how can we match the needs we have in drug R&D with these rapidly evolving technologies?

We’re a group of imaging scientists helping guide these technologies towards use in drug development. The field of medical imaging is fast paced and increasingly diversified into many sub-specialised areas across different disciplines (e.g. PET radiochemistry, fMRI analysis). We could never have a group large enough to maintain expertise in all disciplines, methods and applications. Keeping externally engaged is the only way for us to access the knowledge we need, to keep current and ensure GSK can apply the right methods.

The King’s/Imperial medical imaging CDT offers pharma a mechanism to engage with cutting edge imaging science. We see three clear benefits this framework brings us.

Firstly, it allows us to engage with a broad, cross-disciplinary network of collaborators with expertise in imaging physics, probe development and image analysis. This breadth helps us focus on answering our questions with the right technique- considering all options.

Secondly, as we evolve ideas through a PhD research project we can benefit from any new methods developed. We don’t need to wait until the end of the research project to realise the benefits- from day one our engagement around the imaging science helps us.

Thirdly, GSK like many technology-focused companies are highly dependent upon a flow of talented scientists joining us, bringing new creative science to drug development. The CDT gives us an opportunity to get to know each other- for the student to see whether a career in industry is right for them. For us, the broad MRes program combined with industry-focused research will ensure students complete their PhDs with a technological breadth and other skills needed to hit the ground running in industry.

Whilst our involvement is early, our discussions have already given us many new directions to explore and resulted in one research project so far. Each engagement and each project will inevitably catalyse new directions- communicating important industry challenges to our academic colleagues and bringing the best imaging science to GSK.

View industry-backed CDT projects available for 2016/17 intake