Illumina has inked deals with pharma majors AstraZeneca, Sanofi and Johnson & Johnson to develop a test that will select the right personalised cancer drug for each individual patient.

The plan is to develop a universal next-generation sequencing (NGS)-based oncology test system to be used for clinical trials of targeted cancer therapies. The goal then will be to create “a multi-gene panel for therapeutic selection, resulting in a more comprehensive tool for precision medicine”.

AstraZeneca said that llumina’s NGS technology allows rapid sequencing of multiple genes “in a much faster and cheaper way than traditional DNA sequencing methods”. Ruth March, head of personalised healthcare and biomarkers at the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker, said the partnership “has the potential to deliver an unprecedented amount of clinical information from a single test”.

She went on to say that Illumina’s technology will inform doctors about the molecular make-up of their patients’ tumours, “enabling them to match medicines to the drivers of disease. Our aim is for doctors to be able to use these tests to prescribe the right medicines for the right patients”.

Rick Klausner, Illumina’s chief medical officer, said these agreements “represent the deep engagement between Illumina and the pharma community to create the technical, clinical, regulatory and ultimately commercial solutions for the next generation of molecular oncology”.

Last month, Illumina was chosen by the British government to sequence 100,000 genomes of patients and families and link this to the National Health Service database. Dr Klausner said that through this work, which will be done in Cambridge, “we will be contributing to making the UK the first ever country to introduce genome sequencing into its mainstream healthcare provision”.

To date, 125 known cancer driver genes have been discovered – 71 tumour suppressors and 54 oncogenes – that drive tumour growth through 12 cellular signalling pathways, Illumina said. While today the number of available targeted therapies is limited, an estimated 800 oncology drugs are in development, many of which are designed to target specific mutations which will need new companion diagnostic tests.