Alzheimer's Researcher to Head Drug Company Program
For several years, the British drug company Glaxo Wellcome has been buying into U.S. biotech firms as part of a push into genetics, and today it announced a surprising choice to run its genetics effort: Allen Roses of Duke University, a prominent neuroscientist and controversial Alzheimer's disease researcher. Roses has agreed to take charge of Glaxo's $47 million genetics directorate, which he will run from the company's U.S. headquarters in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.
Roses says the main reason he took the job is that "We are at a point now in the understanding of Alzheimer's disease that we are targeting" therapeutic products. "Universities don't make drugs and governments don't make drugs," Roses says, but "Glaxo Wellcome does." Glaxo Wellcome has funded Roses's work at Duke, and he says his research program will "be accelerated by my being inside" the company. Glaxo has also agreed to allow Roses to continue research at Duke as an adjunct professor.
As director of Glaxo's international genetics program, Roses takes over a program based in labs in three countries (the United States, Britain, and Switzerland), comprising 150 researchers. According to Glaxo, this staff is expected to double over the next 18 months, as new departments are created to "ensure that genetics plays its part not only in drug discovery but also in development and in the commercialization of medicines."
Roses says one of the reasons the company chose him is that he's not a fence straddler. Indeed, he notes, some of his peers have called him a "street fighter." For example, he recently spoke out at a Senate subcommittee hearing against the poor reception many of his peers have given his Alzheimer's research findings. After his team published studies linking the apolipoprotein E gene to late-onset Alzheimer's disease, he said, their funding requests to the National Institutes of Health received poor ratings from "narrowly focused scientists" with "dogmatic belief systems" and were rejected out of hand. His lab would have closed, he added, had it not received funding from Glaxo Wellcome.
While to some Roses may seem a renegade, his colleague Peter St. George-Hyslop of the University of Toronto says he's really "not all that outrageous ... he likes to play that angle." As for Roses's move to Glaxo, St. George-Hyslop comments: "It's good for them, bad for academic science."