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As a science-led healthcare company, R&D is at the heart of GSK's business.

Richard Moran

GSK’s Immunology Network brings together top minds to broaden understanding of the body’s complex defense system

The immune system is the body’s great defender against harmful invaders, common bacteria and other micro-organisms that can make us sick. And while it may seem a basic system with a singular task, the immune system is actually a complex set of biological processes working in balance, like a finely tuned orchestra, to keep us healthy. For this reason, science related to the immune system is at the core of our R&D approach.

But what happens when the immune system turns on the body? An out-of-tune immune system can be just as harmful to us as the invaders it would normally protect against, says Dr. Alex Romanovschi, medical director at Mississauga-based GlaxoSmithKline Inc., the Canadian unit of GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK).

An immune system with low activity, he explains, can be slow to respond to unwelcome invaders and allows diseases or unhealthy cells to flourish without resistance. In the case of an “overactive” or hyperactive immune system, it can actually attack healthy cells and tissues in the body. Diseases such as multiple sclerosis, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis are all the result of an unbalanced immune system.

What happens when your body’s defense system turns on itself?

At GSK, we know your immune system is like a finely-tuned orchestra. One cell out of tune can lead to diseases like asthma and lupus.

So, we’ve invited world-leading scientists to help unlock the secrets of the immune system.

Because the answer to finding new treatments and cures could lie within the body itself.

In an effort to dig deeper into the complexities of the body’s immune system, GSK launched the Immunology Network in 2015 – a novel collaborative initiative that has brought together leading international scientists in the field of immune system dysfunction, together with GSK scientists at our state-of-the-art R&D hub in the UK. Their aim is to identify areas of breakthrough research in immunology by leveraging collective intelligence across the extended research community. The research, focused on several therapeutic areas such as respiratory disease, metabolic diseases, immune-mediated inflammatory diseases and cancer, provides an opportunity to bring the insights of cutting-edge fundamental research to the process of developing new drugs.

By uncovering root causes of diseases, therapies could be developed to target just the unhealthy cells while leaving the healthy ones intact, GSK expert say.

MAIA GRECCO

According to Romanovschi, research around “targeted therapies,” a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific types of cancer cells with less harm to normal cells, is an area where immunology research has the potential to make some “exciting discoveries.”

With traditional cancer therapies, medicines target cancer cells with the aim of destroying those already present and preventing more from taking root. But the medicines also kill off healthy cells during this process. By uncovering the root causes of these diseases and their connection to the immune system, Romanovschi says that certain therapies could theoretically be developed to target just the unhealthy or cancerous cells while leaving the healthy ones intact.

World-leading scientists at GSK are working to find new treatments and cures for major diseases.

RICHARD MORAN

The development of treatments for cancer and other diseases is only part of the story when you’re dealing with something as complex and integrated into the human body as the immune system, Romanovschi says. Researchers take a “diagnostic approach” and following the pathways of diseases and the immune system’s response to these diseases to come up with innovative solutions and treatments.

“There is no question that uncovering the secrets of the body’s immune system is the next step in developing treatments for many of the diseases still plaguing the modern world. Whether a disease is inflammatory in nature, cancerous or due to an infection, our immune system is playing a key role. And while we have a good understanding of how it works, we are discovering new things every day,” says Romanovschi.

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