AstraZeneca teams with Venter to mine genomes for R&D insights

The tech mantra of better, faster, cheaper has slashed the cost of genomic sequencing to a tiny fraction of the original expense. And now AstraZeneca says the time is perfect to launch an ambitious partnership with Craig Venter’s Human Longevity to do a mass sequencing project aimed at illuminating a path to new and better drugs.

The pharma giant is creating an in-house Centre for Genomics Research which will gather information from two million genome sequences, a mega database that will incorporate sequencing on 500,000 samples gathered during its clinical trials.

The new project, which follows a variety of similar efforts by biopharma players like Amgen and Regeneron, will be used to ID new drug targets, identify the right patients for its trials and help push along the effort on personalized medicines--matching the right drug with the right patients.

Human Longevity will be doing the sequencing on AstraZeneca’s 500,000 DNA samples, while Venter’s company will open its vaults to AstraZeneca’s global R&D group. Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, UK, and The Institute for Molecular Medicine, Finland, are also participating.

As the cost of doing mass sequencing efforts like this has dropped, key players in the biopharma business have been mounting their own efforts. Identifying genetic subsets of patients who can benefit from a particular drug, or finding a better target for treating cancer, for example, is reshaping pharma research efforts. And rather than picking individual projects based on academic research, AstraZeneca is going front and center.

The same strategy pushed Regeneron to mount its own genetics institute, while Amgen acquired Iceland’s deCode for $415 million in 2012 to do population scale sequencing.

“Together, with the rich clinical data from our biobank, we will translate these findings into better understanding of disease and ultimately, more effective treatments for patients,” noted Bahija Jallal, an EVP for AstraZeneca.

- here's the release