At AstraZeneca, we are enhancing our unique network of global, pioneering genomics collaborators. Three recent partnerships, with Regeneron and the UK Biobank, the FinnGen consortium, and with Professor John Danesh at the University of Cambridge, demonstrate our shared ambition to uncover the genetic drivers of disease.
These new collaborations will make an important contribution to the AstraZeneca and MedImmune Genomics Initiative, launched in April 2016 and implemented by our Centre for Genomics Research (CGR). We have made rapid progress towards achieving our bold ambitions of analysing up to two million genomes and sequencing 500,000 genomic samples from our own clinical trials by 2026.
Our aim is to transform drug discovery and development by delivering novel insights into the biology of diseases, identifying new drug targets, supporting patient selection for clinical trials and matching patients to the therapies most likely to benefit them.
Collaborating for success
The integrated Genomics Initiative is an industry first in terms of scale and scope, and puts genomics at the heart of our drug discovery programme. Our latest collaborations will provide us with the large sample sizes needed to confidently uncover associations between genetics and disease traits
As a participant in the FinnGen study consortium, we are collaborating with university hospitals in Finland, the nationwide network of Finnish biobanks and industry peers to analyse genomic and digital healthcare data from 500,000 Finnish people. The unique heritage of this population offers an exciting opportunity to study the genetic drivers of disease more quickly and effectively than in other populations, aiding the discovery of novel drug targets.
Through the new partnership with Regeneron and UK Biobank, we will have access to 500,000 exome sequences (protein-coding regions of the genome) from the UK Biobank. This collaboration provides an invaluable resource of paired genetic, clinical and other biomarker data, such as imaging, on a large scale, aiding our understanding of the role of genetics in human health.
We are also delighted to announce a new alliance with Cambridge University, working with John Danesh, Professor of Epidemiology and Medicine. Professor Danesh has pioneered the use of integrative population approaches to provide new insights about the causes and predictors of coronary heart disease, with important implications for disease prediction and prevention. This relationship provides the opportunity to work with specialised expertise in quantitative genomics and multi-ethnic population genetics, adding diversity to our genomic data.
Driving towards two million genomes
Our Centre for Genomics Research has already made great progress towards our goal of 2 million genomes. We have already analysed over 200,000 genomes, 10% of our target, and provided valuable genetic information to disease area experts across our Science Units. We have also sequenced thousands of genomic samples from our own clinical trials in the cardiovascular, respiratory and oncology disease areas, using these data with paired clinical data to provide new information for drug discovery.
Successful genomic proof of concept study
CGR scientists have reported the success of our first proof of concept study at major conferences, including The American Society for Human Genetics. This study, carried out with partners at Columbia University, analysed exome sequences from patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) to investigate genetic drivers of this life-threatening condition. Collapsing analysis – a novel analytical method to identify rare genetic variants related to disease – successfully identified five known genes associated with CKD, including polycystic kidney disease genes, PKD1 and PKD2, as well as novel genes.
These findings have given us confidence to use this novel methodology to detect new genetic drivers of disease, a number of which we are now investigating as potential novel CKD drug targets
First publication from AstraZeneca’s Centre for Genomics Research
Our genomics experts, in collaboration with Columbia University, published the CGR’s first high impact paper in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery. The paper demonstrates how applying genomic analysis and knowledge will advance drug development and drive the discovery of innovative precision medicines. Our next publication will describe the proof of concept study in CKD.
By harnessing the power of genomics through multiple pioneering collaborations and the rapid scientific progress driven by our own experts, we are applying our growing understanding of disease biology to identify novel targets and biomarkers, which we believe will help transform the discovery and development of innovative new precision medicines.
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