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AstraZeneca sets up genomics consortium for drug discovery

Will launch dedicated research centre to analyse data from clinical trials

AstraZeneca has set up a new initiative to screen around two million genomes sequences for information that will guide drug discovery and development.

The UK-based pharma company has set up collaborations with US sequencing specialist Human Longevity, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK and The Institute for Molecular Medicine (FIMM) in Finland, and will contribute 500,000 samples from its own clinical trials to the effort.

Under the terms of the agreement, AZ will set up a dedicated Centre for Genomics Research which will bring together genome sequence data from clinical samples as well as associated clinical and drug response information. It also plans to publish all findings from the collaborative project.

Human Longevity - set up by genomics pioneer Craig Venter in 2014 - will sequence the clinical samples and analyse them using machine-learning, pattern recognition and other analytical techniques, while the Sanger Institute will work with AZ's unit to identify new drug targets and biomarkers.

AZ will also work with FIMM to study genes of interest in the Finnish population, which is known to carry a higher than normal frequency of rare genomic variants. The collaboration will tap into Finland's comprehensive system of health records and national biobank, which makes it easy to ask people with interesting genomic signatures to come in for further clinical evaluations.

The UK drugmaker's latest project comes as considerable momentum is building behind the 'mining' of genome sequences - using big data analysis - to tease out hitherto unknown molecular pathways that can be exploited for healthcare purposes. Linking the genomes with clinical data adds another level of insight.

AZ is one of several pharma companies already working with Genomics England on the UK's national 100,000 Genomes Project - which aims to map the DNA of patients with cancers and rare genetic conditions and link the data to anonymised NHS records. Similar initiatives are underway in other countries, including the US and Iceland.

The industrial partners, who along with AZ include AbbVie, Alexion, Biogen, GlaxoSmithKline, Roche, Takeda and UCB, are working in a public-private partnership called the GENE Consortium to analyse the DNA sequences and find new drug targets.

"The fields of genetics and genomics evolve so rapidly that no single company can internalise this type of research and do it all themselves," commented Bahija Jallal, executive vice president of AZ's Medimmune subsidiary.

"We are acutely aware of this, which is why we have chosen to work with the genomics community to leverage external expertise in genomic analyses and the design of large-scale genetic studies."

Article by
Phil Taylor

22nd April 2016

From: Research



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