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Being the most innovative...from San Francisco

Stacie Calad-Thomson, our Chief Operating Officer at ATOM Consortium, shares what it means to her to be the most innovative.

When I explain my job to my 3-year-daughter, I say that I spend my time going to lots of meetings to listen to people’s ideas, or to ask them to listen to mine. I tell her that once we agree on an idea, it is my job to make it happen…to make it real. When she asks why, I say it is because we want to make new medicines to help people who are sick.

She thinks that is a pretty cool job. So do I.

And it’s one I’ve been doing for the past 11 years in various parts of the business across GSK. I started as a chemist in R&D when I relocated from California to Philadelphia as a PhD scientist, eager to work for a large pharma company. I knew here I could make a difference, and a role in process chemistry challenged me to find ways to make things more efficient.

Fast forward through different roles, different leaders, different organization structures and opportunities and here I am back in California, ready for my next GSK challenge to make things more efficient.

This time I’m in a completely different role, leading operations for a team looking to accelerate drug discovery.

Going back to Cali….

In June of last year, the intention to form a partnership between GSK, the US Department of Energy, and National Cancer Institute was announced and there was an opportunity to join the team as a project manager. My interest was more than sparked – I knew this role would be a challenge and I was up for it.

Over the past year, I’ve coordinated the design and establishment of this new public-private partnership. Now, as ATOM Chief Operating Officer, I will lead a cross-functional team in San Francisco and I’ll be building, developing, and executing the day-to-day operations of the ATOM Consortium.

What is the ATOM Consortium? The ATOM Consortium is a partnership between GSK, the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Lab, National Cancer Institute’s Frederick National Lab for Cancer Research, and University of California, San Francisco. We’re looking to use high-performance computing, drug discovery data, and new emerging science to create innovative ways to discover medicines faster and with higher success rates.

Starting from an identified oncology target, our goal is to deliver a patient-ready cancer therapy in less than one year, a process that currently takes an average of six years. The technologies and platform that we intend to build in ATOM will initially be used in the discovery of a cancer therapy, but will be designed to be applicable to all therapeutic areas.

For the scientists who are reading -- we’re taking an in silico-first approach to drug discovery, that is based on parallel models of efficacy, pharmacology, and safety that are then validated experimentally.

For me, this is incredibly exciting. It is good to be back in California – in San Francisco, where we can maximize interactions with scientists at the intersection of medicine and technology. With its proximity to Silicon Valley and other bay area biotechs, I know that here we will have an innovative culture that we can tap into and be a part of.

I’m also excited because I still love working for a large pharma company. I still feel, after 11 years, that this is where I can make the greatest impact. On this smaller team, we are still GSK so we have the support of a big company with a bit of a start-up mentality!

So why should everyone else be excited?

We should all be excited because this project is a great example of what it means to be innovative. Think about it: the industry’s current drug discovery process is long, costly, and has high failure. We test millions of molecules, make thousands, and most fail. ATOM is a bold initiative that is aiming to reinvent drug discovery so we can get better medicines to patients faster and with higher success rates. This is something that should excite everyone.

It’s also exciting because we know R&D is a data-rich organization. The pharma industry doesn’t currently share those data, and we’re trying to change that because we think there’s incredible value of bringing those data together so computers can process and learn from them. We are putting the data on failed compounds into ATOM, so we can learn from them, and are asking future pharma partners to do the same.

This project is incredibly aspirational and GSK has the courage to take it on in partnership with four distinct and different organizations. Together, we hope to develop pre-competitive models and tools that will move the industry’s starting line for drug discovery.

I’m proud of GSK’s transparency in sharing data to make this possible, our commitment to tackling such a bold challenge, and our unwavering focus on the patient. Like I told my daughter, my job is to take new ideas and help turn those into new medicines for people who are sick. That’s more than cool.

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