Genomics England picks Icon as its first CRO partner

By Ben Adams

Icon ($ICLR) has become the first contract research company to help manage the reams of big data coming from the U.K.'s unique private-public partnership Genomics England.

The Dublin, Ireland-based firm will work with a host of other biopharma firms and academic institutions on the Genomics Project, which was originally launched by the British government in 2012 to scan and interpret the personal DNA code known as a genome.

Icon becomes its new big data management provider and will work to help validate clinical data from the 70,000 National Health Service (NHS) patients and their families involved in the scheme. There are currently 11 centers across England where patients are being tested under the program.

Tom O'Leary, the chief information officer at Icon, told FierceCRO: "This deal came about following Genomics England issuing a tender for the provision of clinical data management services to provide data management and data harmonization activities associated with the Genomics England's Genome Project. Icon and Genomics England have been engaged in discussion for approximately 6 months."

The data gathering will take place within Genomics England's "secure data environment," according to a statement, and will add to the data management work already being undertaken by Californian gene sequencing firm Illumina ($ILMN), which has worked on the project since 2014.

In fact, just this week the British government announced it has extended its partnership with Illumina to develop a new platform and knowledge base that can be used to improve and automate genome interpretation.

Genomics England's DNA-mapping service for patients began by focusing its efforts on cancer, rare diseases and infectious diseases, and is being helped by government grants currently totaling £300 million ($435 million) and is run by the state-owned Department of Health.

Seed funding is also coming from its other industry partners (see below for a full list)--although the exact amounts have not been made public.

So what's in it for the private firms stumping up cash and resources? They gain access to anonymized big data from the Genomes Project, which they can use to help develop new (and potentially more efficacious) medicines and diagnostic tests that are targeted at the genetic characteristics of individual patients. Better, targeted medicines and diagnostics should increase the chances of future regulatory approvals and ultimately improve sales.

O'Leary said that Icon will "not be doing any analysis of the Genomics England database for our own research," but added that through its work with Genomics England, "we are furthering our genomics knowledge which enables us to advise biopharma companies on how to capture valuable genomic indicators that will help them to develop more targeted and effective medicines for patients and payers."

He added that the partnership will also put the firm in a "strong position" to "advise and help other government agencies to design and implement similar genomics programs for their countries."

Among the cancers due to be targeted in the first round of testing are: bowel, breast, lung, ovarian, prostate and leukemia, according to a Genomics England spokeswoman.

Under the so-called GENE (Genomics Network for Enterprises) Consortium, Genomics England is currently working with 11 biopharma companies on a selection of whole-genome sequences across cancer and rare diseases.

These firms are:

  • AbbVie ($ABBV)
  • Alexion Pharmaceuticals ($ALXN)
  • AstraZeneca ($AZN)
  • Berg Health
  • Biogen ($BIIB)
  • Dimension Therapeutics ($DMTX)
  • GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK)
  • Helomics
  • NGM Biopharmaceuticals
  • Roche ($RHHBY)
  • Takeda

O'Leary said that members of the GENE Consortium are "pooling their knowledge" and have "carefully controlled access to up to 5,000 whole genome sequences and corresponding health information about participants in the project."

The Genomics England database will be available to the members of the Genomics England Clinical Interpretation Partnership (GeCIP), which brings together researchers, clinicians and trainees from academia and the NHS.

- read the statement

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