AstraZeneca has unveiled plans to sequence up to two million genomes in a bid to identify genetic mutations that drive disease.

Under a broad initiative designed to embed genomics across its research and development platforms, the Anglo-Swedish drugs giant said it will set up an in-house Centre for Genomics Research tasked with developing a bespoke database containing genome sequences from patient samples alongside associated clinical and drug response data.

According to the firm, the move will help deliver novel insights into the biology of diseases, enable the identification of new drug targets, support better selection of patients for clinical trials and allow patients to be matched with the treatments they are most likely to benefit from.

The initiative includes new collaborations with US-based Human Longevity, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, UK, and The Institute for Molecular Medicine, in Finland.

Human Longevity will deploy its state-of-the-art machine learning, pattern recognition and other analytical techniques to up to 500,000 DNA samples from AZ, and add around 1 million of its own integrated genomic and health records to the analysis.

Elsewhere, AZ will establish a research team that sits within the Sanger Institute’s Genome Centre in Cambridge, UK, that will share genomic samples and associated clinical data, plus drug development expertise across core therapy areas. The two parties will identify new targets and biomarkers with potential use in diagnostic tests.

The company will also work with The Institute for Molecular Medicine 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, the  firm said. 

'The time is right'

“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,” said Menelas Pangalos, executive vice president, Innovative Medicines & Early Development, AZ. 

“We will leverage information from up to 2 million genome sequences, including over 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.”