Pharma major GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals (GSK) has launched ‘Trust in Science’ initiative in partnership with the Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB), to develop PhD courses in biostatistics and bioinformatics. A Vaidheesh, Vice President, South Asia and Managing Director, GSK tells more to Akanki Sharma
Kindly share a brief about the ‘Trust in Science’ programme. What does it offer and who are its beneficiaries?
Globally, GSK Pharmaceutical’s ‘Trust in Science’ initiative is a novel public-private partnership model to build R&D capacity for development and discovery in science. The pillars of this initiative are scientific excellence, trust and talent development in line with GSK’s science, technology and cultural values. In India, we have launched the ‘Trust in Science’ initiative in partnership with the Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB), one of India’s academic research institutions to develop PhD courses in biostatistics and bioinformatics. The initiative covers scholarship costs and provides expert guidance to 12 students, so that they can complete their doctoral degrees. Any student with a master’s degree in biostatistics and bioinformatics is eligible to apply for this programme.
What prompted you to initiate a doctoral programme for bioinformatics and biostatistics only? How do you think it is going to benefit the pharma sector in India?
Our industry is generating huge amounts of biological and genomic data. This means we are dealing with massive data sets which were unimaginable some 20 years ago. Now comes the challenge of mining this data for insights and trends which can be extrapolated in a way that leads us to think and plan our future more strategically. Both bioinformatics and biostatistics offer immense promise here. Both the fields can drive the investigation and processing of large sets of biological information in a short period of time. This is of great value to a country like ours, with large sample sizes and varying factors that influence disease and healthcare delivery.
For India to take a consistent and successful path into original pharmaceutical research, there is an urgent need for trained biostatisticians and bioinformaticians in the country. We have in-house experts who can mentor and guide these PhD scholars. Initiatives like this can help India emerge as a centre for biopharma research and fuel breakthrough medical, clinical and public health research in the country. We strongly believe that through this collaboration, young researchers will develop high-end expertise in drug discovery, and we hope it will become a springboard for them to transition into a full-fledged pharma career in the future.
What role does RCB play in this programme and how much has GSK invested in it? Also, do students need to pay any fees to enrol in this programme?
Under this initiative, the RCB is responsible for creating programme content, managing logistics and overseeing the running of the full-time programmes. GSK will provide funding and ensure that all course content is shaped to address current industry needs and opportunities.
GSK will invest up to £600k (approximately Rs 5 crores) to support this programme, which will be matched by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT). The company will also offer students a monthly stipend of Rs 45,000. Beyond funding, we will give the PhD scholars access to the latest research that is relevant to their theses. Further, we will give them opportunities to attend seminars, lectures and training sessions to help stimulate their thinking and network with others in the field. Students do not need to pay any fee to enrol themselves in this programme.
What’s the process of enrollment and how many students will be enrolled in the first year? Will it begin in this academic year? Also, how do you plan to scale it up?
The RCB is in charge of student selection on the basis of merit. All students with a master’s degree in biostatistics and bioinformatics are eligible for the PhD programmes. So far, five students have already been shortlisted. Over the course of three years, we will support a total of 12 students. The programme began in the month of July.
What are the current industry needs and opportunities for pharmacy students in India? How will this programme be a catalyst for the same?
Recently, India’s vice president called on the pharmaceutical industry to help make India an International Capital of Generic Medicines. I believe that along with this, it is important for India to also become known as a hub for original drug research. For this to happen, we need to start young. As young scientists begin to contemplate pursuing research as a career, we need to give them the tools and skills they need to do breakthrough drug research. One way to do this is by developing a new crop of trained biostatisticians and bioinformaticians in the country. Young scientists who have the ability to mine data and gather insights will one day set new standards for drug discovery. Through this programme, it is our goal to provide students with a specialised course that addresses current industry needs and opportunities. This, we believe, will help them better contribute to India’s biopharma and medical research needs.
Is there a lack of opportunities for pharmacy students in India? Can you share some statistics on the same? What better opportunities will ‘Trust in Science’ programme bring for pharmacy students?
The ‘Trust in Science’ programme in India will allow the formation of a new group of skilled people trained in the areas of bioinformatics and biostatistics applied to the pharmaceutical industry.
This programme was initially launched in 2011 to engage with leading researchers and institutions in Latin America. What is its current status?
‘Trust in Science’ is currently working strongly in Latin America, mainly in Brazil and Argentina, with additional efforts in Uruguay and Mexico. Currently, nine research projects are being supported in the areas of immuno-oncology and immuno-inflammation.
Will you be tying up with any other individual pharmacy colleges in India or elsewhere for this programme?
We are working with the Ministry of Science in Argentina on a fellowships programme for Argentinian scientists to work at the Crick Institute in the UK, in research programmes of interest to GSK.