AstraZeneca has caused a stir by signing four collaborations to use CRISPR, a closely-watched genome-editing technique, across its entire discovery platform.

CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is a genome-editing tool, which allows scientists to make changes in specific genes “far faster and in a much more precise way than ever before”, AstraZeneca said. Mene Pangalos, head of innovative medicines and early development, said CRISPR is “a simple yet powerful tool that enables us to manipulate genes of potential importance in disease pathways and examine the impact of these modifications in a highly precise way”.

The collaborations, the financial details for which have not been disclosed, are with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the Innovative Genomics Initiative, the Broad Institute and Whitehead Institute in Massachusetts and Thermo Fisher Scientific. The pacts, which will complement AstraZeneca’s in-house CRISPR programme, allows the firm to identify and validate new targets in preclinical models that closely resemble human disease in its key areas - cancer, cardiovascular, metabolic, respiratory, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases and regenerative medicine.

Dr Pangalos said that “combining the great science from our labs with these world-renowned academic and industry partners, we will be able to integrate this ground-breaking technology into our research  and help accelerate the discovery of novel treatments”.

The deal comes three weeks after Novartis signed CRISPR pacts with Intellia Therapeutics and Caribou Biosciences.