Collaborators in Science

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UCB, the multinational biopharmaceutical company based in Belgium with U.S. corporate headquarters in metro Atlanta, has a tag phrase that it uses to describe its mission: “Inspired by patients. Driven by science.”

That would make the Georgia Institute of Technology a key player in UCB’s pit crew – a valued partner and collaborator, if you will – because for the past several years and into the foreseeable future, some of that science has roots in Georgia Tech.

“Really, the best way to describe our relationship is, Georgia Tech does a fantastic job of identifying solutions and creating innovative answers to a lot of the challenging questions we have at UCB,” says Bruce Lavin, the UCB vice president and head of medical neurology, who has played a leading role in building the partnership through his work with the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience.

The latest and perhaps most significant reflection of the partnership’s success is taking shape in the Centergy Building at Technology Square, where UCB is opening its Solution Accelerator, designed to further the collaboration between the company and the Georgia Tech community in the development of innovative medicines and solutions to treat severe diseases of the immune and central nervous system.

“The genesis of that facility is really based on the close work and collaboration that already existed between UCB and Georgia Tech, particularly in the area of computer sciences with I3L,” says Lavin. “And at the Petit Institute, where we’re exploring neuroscience opportunities that will benefit patients.”

It was two things happening almost simultaneously that cemented the Tech-UCB partnership. Lavin was having discussions with Cynthia Sundell, Tech’s director of Life Science Industry Collaborations, who is based in the Petit Institute, about ways in which the two entities could work together.

“Meanwhile, UCB was just beginning to build its relationship with I3L, which has been a very successful collaboration,” Sundell notes.

And for the past year or so, the company has worked with I3L on what Lavin calls, “a truly innovative project in which we’re looking at computer modeling to help predict patient responses to drug therapies. We’re using predictive analytics to better fit medications to patients and positively impact their care.”

Or, as Sundell says, “it’s an effort to get the right drug to the right patient at the right time.”

It’s a search, really, and the kind of search that Jeffrey Skolnick is very familiar with. A faculty researcher at the Petit Institute and Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) Eminent Scholar, Skolnick’s work is focused on streamlining the process of getting good medicine to people who need it, using algorithms that he’s developed, to identify new therapeutic uses for existing drugs. UCB has enlisted Skolnick toward that end.

“We are doing virtual ligand screening to assist UCB in identifying small molecule hits for difficult targets,” says Skolnick, professor in the School of Biology and director of the Center for the Study of Systems Biology. “UCB is highly motivated to develop new therapeutics in important disease areas.”

In addition to UCB’s work with researchers like Skolnick, or those with I3L, the company is investing in Georgia Tech students, supporting several Petit Undergraduate Scholarships, and providing internship and research opportunities. The company is working with grad students who have designed a computer model to help predict seizures in people who have suffered a traumatic brain injury. Additionally, UCB is working with Tech on designing better clinical trials.

It’s part of what Sundell calls the holy grail of industry collaboration – a long-term strategic partnership without siloes, touching on a variety of strengths and value propositions at Georgia Tech.

From his vantage point, Lavin doesn’t see siloes. He sees a university with a lot of parts that can be, or already are, integrated. He sees further opportunities for the proverbial win-win scenario.

“We’d like to link with the [Scheller] College of Business to help create organization models and new concepts in finance and marketing, and maybe provide opportunities for business students at UCB,” he says. “And we’re beginning a partnership with the Petit Institute to explore innovative, effective ways to manufacture pharmaceuticals and biologics. Really, if you get down to it, I’d say the sky’s the limit.”






Jerry Grillo
Communications Officer II
Parker H. Petit Institute for
Bioengineering and Bioscience


  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created By: Jerry Grillo
  • Created: 11/11/2016
  • Modified By: Jerry Grillo
  • Modified: 11/11/2016


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