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AstraZeneca and Illumina in new partnership

Published on 26/08/14 at 10:42am

AstraZeneca has announced that it will develop next generation sequencing (NGS) for companion diagnostic tests in a new partnership with Illumina.

Expected to be one of the first NGS-based companion diagnostic tests for a novel drug in the world, the gene sequencing technology will be used to test studies for AZ’s investigational oncology compounds.

NGS technology allows rapid sequencing of multiple genes in a much faster and cheaper way according to AZ, who recently announced that its second quarter revenue for this year stood at $6.45 billion, a growth of 4 per cent.

NGS will be used to screen a panel of several gene sequences, scanning for all possible genetic variants.

The data obtained during this test will be used to predict which patients will respond to certain treatments before going onto the appropriate regulation.

“This partnership has the potential to deliver an unprecedented amount of clinical information from a single test,” says Ruth March, vice president, personalised healthcare and biomarkers at AZ.

“Illumina’s technology will inform doctors about the molecular make-up of their patients’ tumours, enabling them to match medicines to the drivers of disease.”

Earlier this month it was revealed that the US Justice Department had pulled out of a controversial investigation into the dealings of one the company’s clinical trials.

US regulators went over the firm’s data of its acute coronary syndrome treatment Brilinta (ticagrelor) after a sealed complaint was filed by a medical professor in the US.

AZ was accused of not submitting data that found possible cardiovascular events or even reports of deaths whilst taking the Brilinta treatment.

However, analysts believed that the US Justice Department would not find anything wrong with the data, they were proved right, and the investigation has now been dropped.

Causes of disease

Doctors are increasingly using companion diagnostic tests as an essential part of personalised healthcare to help them understand the causes of disease at a molecular level.

Ruth March adds: “Our aim is for doctors to be able to use these tests to prescribe the right medicines for the right patients – bringing benefits to healthcare professionals, payers and patients alike.”

According to AZ and Illumina who suggest that NGS is less costly than traditional DNA sequencing, it’s still too expensive for some labs. NGS platforms can cost more than $100,000 in start-up costs, and there is also a risk of inaccurate sequencing of homopolymer regions on certain NGS platforms which can lead to sequence errors.

According to Dr Cheng Eng Ang, head of NGS at Source BioScience, NGS can provide an extremely valuable tool for drug development studies.

Speaking to Pharmafile recently he said: “Utilising this technology, early target identification can be hastened, new genetic lesions associated with disease can be found, and overall development times associated with therapeutics and diagnostics to newly identified targets can be significantly shortened.”

AZ will be looking to back-up its recent claim that it has demonstrated the potential “to transform the way cancer is treated,” and the firm’s partnership with Illumina will aim to make the most of this evolutionary breakthrough in DNA sequencing technology.

Developing this universal test system for AZ, Illumina was last month chosen by the Department of Health owned company – Genomics England – to handle the 100,000 Genomes Project, which was announced last year and is now reportedly worth £300 million.

“We’re excited to be working together with companies such as AstraZeneca, and other bodies, to maximise genomic medicine benefits to patients,” says Rick Klausner, chief medical officer at Illumina.

“Through this work, which will be done in Cambridge, we will be contributing to making the UK the first ever country to introduce genome sequencing into its mainstream healthcare provision.”

Tom Robinson

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