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Six-strong collaboration to sequence 500,000 exomes

Published on 09/01/18 at 10:53am

A collaboration that sees six pharma players come together to fund the sequencing of a particular section of DNA of 500,000 participants has been announced.

The venture is part of the UK Biobank’s aim to create a database of health information on half a million volunteers, to be made publically available to scientists.

If the data is to become publically available, where is the draw for the pharma companies involved, especially considering they are each parting company with $10 million to get the project rolling?

Well, the bulk of the work will be conducted by Regeneron’s Genetics Center (RGC), which will sequence the exomes of the participants themselves before making it available to the five other pharma participants for an exclusive period of six months to twelve months.

The other participants are AbbVie, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, AstraZenca, Biogen and Pfizer.

The data amassed from the study of the exomes will be used for targeted drug discover; Exomes are a particular section of the human genome that includes the coding genes for proteins – a popular target for drugmakers when identifying where new therapeutics breakthroughs can be achieved.

“All of us involved have a shared belief in the power of genetics to facilitate and guide drug discovery and development,” said Aris Baras, Vice President and Head of the RGC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Regeneron.

He commented on GSK’s absence, after initially being involved in the project, by saying: “We have enjoyed working with GlaxoSmithKline on the first phase and welcome their participation in this consortium, but they are not involved, at least at the moment, in this new project”.

The project aims to have completed the project by the end of 2020, which is a significant shift forward from prior aims that were noted during the Regeneron-GSK partnership, which aimed for completion with three to five years.

The UK Biobank already unveiled preliminary findings from data collected from volunteers last year, which found that natural selection is still active within the UK.

It found that earlier age for first childbirth is favoured and that higher BMI in men was linked to ‘reproductive success’, though researchers cautioned that it isn’t clear whether this a direct or indirect link.

Ben Hargreaves

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