Harnessing the code of life to develop new treatments

Genomics is the foundation of what science can do to understand the causes of disease and develop new medicines.

22 April 2016

AstraZeneca’s genomics initiative is centered on samples donated by patients in our clinical trials for research into human health. Now, following dramatic advances in genomics technology, we have a unique opportunity to combine the full genome sequence from these patients with extensive clinical and drug response data from our clinical trials. This insight will be combined with genomic information from our partners in a bespoke database, so we can apply the knowledge gained from an unprecedented two million genomes comprehensively across our entire research and development pipeline.

A genomics initiative with a difference

New technology – next generation sequencing - enables us to read every letter of every gene in the DNA of patients in our research. This is a significant advance on previous technology, which could only detect common differences between people at a much less precise level. For the first time, we’ll be able to uncover very rare differences between individuals – even ones found in only a single individual. These rare differences are what scientists believe lie behind common disease like asthma, diabetes and common cancers.

Numbers of patients – up to two million in this initiative – can be analysed, because next generation sequencing is up to a million times faster and also less expensive than previous technology. These numbers are essential to find those very rare genomic differences that interact with the environment to cause disease.

Scale of data – we will combine the genome data of these two million patients with extensive clinical data, including up to 500 measurements per patient in our clinical trials. We will use the latest big data analytical techniques to integrate and mine this combined genomic and clinical data in a five petabyte bespoke database. This gives us a unique opportunity to analyse the influence of genomics not only on the causes of disease but also on response to treatment.

Partners – our private partner, Human Longevity Inc (HLI), brings world-leading sequencing expertise and machine learning analytics. Our public partners, including The Sanger Institute, Helsinki University, Montreal Heart Institute and Genomics England bring both disease area and genomics expertise. To achieve this ambitious initiative, we must work with the best private and public partners. Each of our partners has been carefully selected to bring complementary expertise and access to unique genomics databases.

Comprehensive use – we will apply the genomics knowledge gained from this unprecedented initiative across our entire research and development pipeline. We will identify novel drug targets linked to molecular mechanisms, transforming our disease understanding and research. We will improve our clinical trials using biomarkers, selecting patients for therapies that target the underlying genomic mechanisms of disease. We will be able to launch better medicines, faster - by selecting the right patients for the right, targeted therapies.

A pivotal time

For decades, scientists have predicted that one day, genomic studies would transform drug development and patient care. Now is a pivotal time in genomics research where we can start to harness the power of the genome - through the technological advances of next generation sequencing and bioinformatics - to use our distinctive capabilities to develop novel, targeted medicines.

The opportunity is here to integrate genomics across our drug discovery and development platform to make a real difference. It will enable us to delve much deeper into the underlying genomic causes of disease, and to use this information in all aspects of our research to target these mechanisms with our medicines.

What the genomics initiative will deliver

This information will drive drug discovery and development across all of our therapeutic areas. It will allow us to identify new biomarkers and targets for medicines and understand which medicines will work best for which patients. Genomics will be fundamental to our laboratory research, our clinical trials programmes and the launch of our products for patient access.

In discovery, we will benefit from uncovering innovative drug targets linked to molecular mechanisms. Genome sequencing unlocks hidden causes of disease, transforming our disease understanding and research.

In development, we will be able to better select the right patients for the right clinical trials. Using biomarkers, we can select patients for therapies that target the underlying genomic mechanisms of disease.

At launch phase we will be well placed to deliver better medicines, faster, to the right patients for the right, targeted therapies.

The future treatment of many of today’s health disorders relies on uncovering the causes of disease so that we can develop new medicines. By combining our skills in drug discovery and development and our unique collection of research samples and data with leaders in industry and academia we will maximise the potential for discovering and developing new treatments in areas of high unmet medical need.

Harnessing the latest genomics knowledge and techniques today will help us to gain new understanding of disease to develop the treatments of tomorrow, in our mission to push the boundaries of science to deliver life-changing medicines to patients.

Atlas ID: 970727.011
Date of next review: April 2017