AstraZeneca and Craig Venter on massive gene hunt

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AstraZeneca, working with genome pioneer Craig Venter, is launching a massive gene hunt in the most comprehensive bet yet by a pharmaceutical firm on the potential of genetic variations to unlock routes to new medicines.

Reuters Health reports that the recently announced initiative involves sequencing up to 2m human genomes – the complete set of genetic code that acts as the software of life – including 500,000 DNA samples collected by AstraZeneca in global clinical trials. Financial details of the 10-year project were not disclosed but Mene Pangalos, head of early drug development, said the company would be investing “hundreds of millions of dollars”.

AstraZeneca aims to identify rare genetic mutations involved in every kind of disease by scanning DNA from volunteers who agreed to have their genomes sequenced and to provide access to detailed medical records. The project is made possible by a dramatic fall in the cost of genetic sequencing. The report says it took government-funded scientists $3bn and 13 years to sequence the first human genome by 2003. Today, it costs around $1,000 and takes just three days.

AstraZeneca will work with Venter’s US company Human Longevity Inc (HLI), which will sequence the genomes, including 1m from HLI’s database, and use machine-learning software to find patterns in genetic variations.

The report says the British group, which is establishing an in-house Centre for Genomics Research, Cambridge, where it is relocating its global headquarters, has also partnered with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and Finland’s Institute for Molecular Medicine.

The report says AstraZeneca is not the first drugmaker to start amassing troves of human DNA in this way but Venter, one of the first scientists to sequence the human genome, said it was the biggest commitment to date by any pharmaceutical company.

Full Reuters Health report

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