AstraZeneca gives Goldstein leading role in push to sequence 2M genomes

AstraZeneca HQ

AstraZeneca ($AZN) has named David Goldstein as chief adviser to its new genome sequencing drive. The appointment gives a professor known for his work on genetic drivers of responses to hepatitis C drugs and inherited disorders influence over the direction of AstraZeneca’s move to build and make use of a database of 2 million whole genomes.

Goldstein is taking on the consultancy role on the back of time as the chair of AstraZeneca’s advisory panel on genomics. AstraZeneca unveiled its plan to sequence 2 million whole genomes and analyze the data in search of rare genetic variants during Goldstein’s time as chair of the panel, suggesting he is well versed in AstraZeneca’s plans and goals coming into the new role.

With Goldstein continuing in his academic position while advising AstraZeneca, part of his task will be to establish an in-house team capable of panning for gold in the torrent of genomics literature that is generated today. As Goldstein sees it, the ability to recognize which scientific papers can inform drug development and which are worthless filler is critical to the challenge AstraZeneca has set itself.

“You really have to have real expertise to follow the genomics academic literature and figure out what’s in it that’s relevant to your drug,” Goldstein told Nature News. “A real problem with the literature is that a lot of it is unreliable. It’s really striking to me how much is out there that is untrue. And that really only a relatively small proportion of the community knows that, and knows how to recognize what is likely to be true and what isn’t.”

One of Goldstein’s first tasks is to ensure AstraZeneca has staff, at its Centre for Genomics Research in Cambridge, U.K. and beyond, who are part of that small proportion of the community who can differentiate between gems and stinkers in the scientific literature.

With more than 250 papers to his name, Goldstein is better placed than most to know what is worth paying attention to. Goldstein, who will keep his full-time position at Columbia University Medical Center while advising AstraZeneca, arrives in his new position on the back of 20 years of academic research. But, while the professor’s résumé is light on industry experience, he is aware the nature of Big Pharma R&D means the 10-year program will pose more than just scientific challenges.

“In the pharmaceutical world, sticking to something for many years is a challenge,” he said.