Among those confronting the challenge is AstraZeneca and its global biologics research and development arm, MedImmune, which recently announced a genomics initiative to transform its drug discovery work.

AstraZeneca believes that embedding genomics across its research and development will allow it to deliver insights into the biology of diseases, enable the identification of new targets for medicines and allow patients to be matched with treatments more likely to benefit them. As part of the work, AstraZeneca is creating an in-house Centre for Genomics Research based in its corporate headquarters in Cambridge, UK, which will work closely with the international genomics community. The initiative includes new collaborations with Human Longevity, Inc., of the US, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the UK and The Institute for Molecular Medicine, Finland.

Menelas Pangalos, Executive Vice President, Innovative Medicines & Early Development at AstraZeneca, said: “Using the power of genomics is the foundation of our ambition to develop the most innovative and impactful treatments for patients. “With the advent of next generation sequencing and the increased sophistication of data analysis, the time is now right to immerse ourselves fully in the international genomics community through these pioneering collaborations and through the creation of our own genome centre. “We will leverage information from up to two million genome sequences, including more than 500,000 from our own clinical trials, to drive drug discovery and development across all our therapeutic areas. Genomics will be fundamental to our laboratory research, our clinical trials and the launch of our medicines for patients.”

AstraZeneca will establish a research team led by a genomics expert of international reputation, based at The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute’s world-renowned Genome Centre in Cambridge. AstraZeneca will also collaborate with The Institute for Molecular Medicine, Finland, and its partners in Finland and the US, to study genes of interest in the Finnish population, which is known to carry a higher than normal frequency of rare variants. Bahija Jallal, Executive Vice President, MedImmune, said: “The fields of genetics and genomics evolve so rapidly that no single company can internalise this type of research and do it all themselves.

“We are acutely aware of this, which is why we have chosen to work with the genomics community to leverage external expertise in genomic analyses and the design of large-scale genetic studies. 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.” In line with AstraZeneca’s “open innovation” approach, research findings from all collaborations across its genomic platform will be published in peer-reviewed journals, contributing to the broader scientific understanding of the genetic influence of disease.