Last updated May 4, 2017
A ground-breaking initiative between pharmaceutical companies, the UK-based GSK and US-based Regeneron, could usher in a new era of drug development for a wide range of diseases.
The very significant undertaking will take UK Biobank samples and turn them into important genetic data that will allow scientists to gain valuable insight into the factors that put some people at increased risk of disease, or make it more difficult for them to be successfully treated. These new genetic data will be returned to UK Biobank and will be available to all approved researchers anywhere in the world.
The sequencing focusses specifically on 1-2% of the genome, known as the exome (where the actual coding genes are contained), because it is this area that scientists believe has most relevance for drug therapy.
Scientists believe this is the biggest genetics study ever. It builds on previous genetics analyses that have already been undertaken on UK Biobank samples and which are now delivering extensive results.
A better understanding of human genetics has begun to revolutionise scientific discovery and the development of new medicines. Drug development can be a slow and involved process, but medicines developed with the help of human genetic evidence have a substantially higher success in improving patient care.
GSK and Regeneron have committed the initial investment to enable the sequencing of the first 50,000 samples, to be completed before the end of 2017. Sequencing of UK Biobank’s samples will be carried out at Regeneron, in New York State, which is one of the world’s largest human genetics sequencing centres. Sequencing of the full 500,000 samples in UK Biobank is expected to take three to five years.
Consistent with the founding principles of UK Biobank, the new data released by the work will be incorporated back into UK Biobank and available for all researchers following an exclusive period for GSK and Regeneron, in this case, 9 months. This period is fully in line with the exclusive period granted to other researchers conducting comparable analyses. The data will then be made available to the broader scientific community through UK Biobank. In due course, research findings will be published in peer-reviewed journals.
Sir Rory Collins, UK Biobank Principal Investigator and BHF Professor of Medicine & Epidemiology at Oxford University, said: “As a result of the altruism and continued support of our volunteer participants, UK Biobank has amassed an enormous amount of securely-stored health, lifestyle, medical and biological data. Genetics research is already shaping better treatments. This exciting initiative is expected to start producing novel findings rapidly during this year and will make UK Biobank even more useful for health-related research.
“UK Government and charity medical research funders have invested about £200 million in UK Biobank. The costs of gene sequencing are falling, but doing it on a large scale is expensive – about $150 million if all 500,000 participants are sequenced. That is why it is so important that academia and industry work together. The initial investment by GSK and Regeneron will be a tremendous boost to the value of the UK Biobank resource for academic and industry researchers around the world, studying many different conditions.”
The work supports and is complementary to other genetic analyses that have already been done within UK Biobank (and are already advancing research).
There are a number of advantages to industry taking on this workload. Firstly, the work will be done quickly, and securely – releasing a whole new wave of crucial health information, for other scientists to use. Secondly, it makes this expensive research affordable. It costs about $150 million to use this methodology to study the genetics of every UK Biobank participant; that sort of investment is beyond the pocket of most charity and government bodies that fund health research.
GSK has significant expertise in genomics and is increasingly incorporating the almost daily advances in this scientific field into its drug research programmes.
Patrick Vallance, President, R&D at GSK, said: “I believe that we are in a new era of drug discovery because of a fundamental change in our understanding of human biology, driven largely by advances in human genetics. UK Biobank is one of the most important health resources available to scientists today, offering a rich source of information about health and disease and providing us with a unique opportunity to take that crucial first step in exploring new medicines – finding where to start.
“Having been actively involved in the UK Biobank as a board member since 2013, I’m delighted that, through our collaboration with Regeneron, we can enrich this resource for the wider scientific community and also provide potential new opportunities for companies such as ours to develop new medicines.”
Comment from George D Yancopoulos, MD, PhD, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Regeneron: “Our large-scale sequencing and analysis capabilities, coupled with UK Biobank’s vast trove of de-identified biological and medical information, pose tremendous opportunities for clinically meaningful discoveries that will positively impact patient outcomes.
“We have long-recognised that advancing the pace and clinical utility of human genetics research requires collaboration and an open exchange of data between industry, academia and public health groups, and we are pleased to expand upon our existing foundational research collaborations through this effort with the UK Biobank and GSK. For Regeneron, we believe this initiative will greatly enhance our existing efforts in gene discovery and genetics-guided drug development.”
Page updated 4 May 2017