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AZ and CRUK launch Cambridge genomics centre

New centre adds to Cambridge's biotech cluster

AstraZeneca has unveiled an ambitious expansion of its alliance with Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the partners today launching a new genomics research centre in Cambridge, UK.

Based at the University of Cambridge’s Milner Therapeutics Institute, The Functional Genomics Centre will be just 10 minutes away from AstraZeneca’s new headquarters and the CRUK institute, and will add to the growing cluster of collaboration in the city, one of the world's foremost medical sciences research centres.

AZ

AZ's new campus, Cambridge, UK

Functional genomics aims to translate the ever-increasing volumes of DNA data being generated by researchers into understanding of how genes influence cellular changes in disease - and how this knowledge can result in faster, more accurate drug discovery.

While CRISPR has attracted huge interest as being used in potential therapies, (such as Vertex and CRISPR Therapeutic's sickle cell disease study) AZ has focused on using the technology in drug discovery, where it has now built up five years' of experience.

The new partnership representation an expansion in its ambitions, and access to CRUK's world class functional genomics database will facilitate faster progress. The appeal of CRISPR is clear: being able to 'knock out' specific genes more rapidly and cleanly than previous technologies, it is helping researchers establish links between genes and diseases much more quickly.

Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President, Innovative Medicines & Early Development, AstraZeneca said:  “This new centre of excellence with Cancer Research UK will combine our expertise in functional genomics and CRISPR technology to identify new biological pathways driving disease and will accelerate the development of new cancer medicines for patients.”

AZ and CRUK will harness CRISPR tech to understand the biology behind cancer, leading to the creation of biological models that may be more reflective of the human disease.

The advantage of CRISPR (short for Clustered Regularly Interspace Short Palindromic Repeat) lies within the speed at which scientists can perform gene editing.

Knowing the functional genomic drivers of disease increases the probability of success in drug discovery and early development, giving scientists an edge when it comes to selecting the right drug targets. 

Mene

AZ's Mene Pangalos

Pangalos says CRISPR is already helping to accelerate insights into the roles specific genes play in different disease mechanisms. Speeding up the identification of the gene or genes involved helps to isolate the most promising targets for novel drugs.

“You could spend 20 years of your life on a target, but then realise it’s the wrong one. It’s the most critic decision we can make. But CRISPR informs us of the right target”.

Dr Iain Foulkes, Cancer Research UK’s Executive Director of Research and Innovation, said: “We’re delighted to collaborate with AstraZeneca on this exciting new initiative which will give leading Cancer Research UK scientists and our alliance partners access to the latest in CRISPR technology.

“As we move into an era of personalised medicine, we’ve reached a turning point in our ability to harness powerful technologies in the pursuit of targeted cancer therapies. We hope that this will translate into urgently needed new therapies for patients with hard to treat cancers such as lung, pancreatic, oesophageal and brain tumours.”

The new centre will also advance computational approaches to analyse big datasets, a problem that is a given in genomics as it takes around 90GB of space to map a whole genome.

Scientists will also have access to CRISPR libraries for silencing or activating every gene in the genome, which follows on from an existing deal between AZ and the Wellcome Sanger Institute first agreed in 2015.

Although both companies were unable to comment on the exact figure that the new centre will cost, Pangalos confirmed that the amount is in the millions, and it will be jointly funded by AZ and CRUK.

The announcement was made just days after Genomics England hit its target of sequencing 100,000 genomes.

Meanwhile, technology solutions and contract research group IQVIA has announced it will invest £20m in Genomics England, furthering the UK’s goal of becoming a leader in genomics.

Article by
Gemma Jones

10th December 2018

From: Research

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