Pharma takes interest in genomics to next level

By Ben Hargreaves

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/Tetiana Lazunova)
(Image: Getty/Tetiana Lazunova)

Related tags Gsk Biobank Uk government Amgen Astrazeneca Johnson & johnson Genomics Gene therapy

Four pharma companies are providing half of the investment required for ‘world’s largest genetics project’, in return for access to the genomic data generated.

Genetic data is becoming increasingly valuable, as the potential of gene-targeting treatments becomes more evident, with recent approvals​.

The exact worth has been revealed by four companies’ collaboration with the UK’s Biobank, after the companies paid £100m ($124m) to provide half of the funding to achieve whole genome sequencing of 500,000 participants in the project.

Funding for the further £100m will be provided by the UK government, through UK Research and Innovation and the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, as part of what it calls the world’s largest genetics project​.

The aim is to identify genetic causes behind a number of common and chronic diseases, such as dementia, mental illness, cancer and heart disease. In addition, the research could aid in the scientific understanding of how genetics overlap with lifestyle and the environment to cause disease.

Pharma eyes genomic data

The four pharma companies contributing to the research are Amgen, AstraZeneca, GSK, and Johnson & Johnson. In return for their investment, the companies will gain access to the first tranche of sequence data, which will account for approximately 125,000 participants’ worth of data.

On first receiving access for analysis, the companies will have an exclusive access period of nine months, and they will again receive a similar exclusive access period upon the completion of the entirety of the data set.

For GSK, this follows a very clear path it has set itself to follow genomic data in its R&D process, after it signed a second significant genomic partnership deal​ in two years.

Speaking on the announcement, John Lepore, SVP of research at GSK, said, “Genetically validated drug candidates are twice as likely to become registered novel medicines, and efforts like this bring us closer to developing transformational medicines that can significantly improve patient health and change lives.”

Being able to target genetic diseases and make changes to individuals’ genetic information has become such a mainstream science in recent years that last month​ a group of companies in the space announced that they had subscribed to a ‘Statement of Principles’ regarding such technology’s use.

Wider research

After the pharma companies’ exclusivity period runs out, however, the data will be made available to all other approved researchers around the world. According to the Biobank, this means that data will be made available to approved academic and commercial researchers.

The UK’s health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, said, “I am incredibly excited by the potential of genomics to change the way we think about disease and healthcare. In an aging society with an increasing burden of chronic diseases, it is vital that we diagnose earlier, personalize treatment and where possible prevent diseases from occurring altogether.”

The participants who provided their genetic data were recruited between 2006 and 2010, and were aged between 40 and 69 years.

They provided blood, urine and saliva samples, alongside further information, and agreed to have their health followed. All of the data held by the UK Biobank is anonymized and protected, the organization noted.

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