Artificial DNA and Intelligence
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Illumina and AstraZeneca have signed a pact to accelerate drug target discovery using artificial intelligence (AI) and genomic analysis techniques. The pair aims to increase the yield of target discovery to find promising drugs based on human omics insights.

“Illumina and AstraZeneca are uniquely positioned to improve the efficiency of pharma pipelines by leveraging industry-leading abilities to identify genetic variants that contribute to human disease,” said Joydeep Goswami, chief strategy and corporate development officer, interim chief financial officer at Illumina. “By identifying genes that show evidence of human disease causality, the combined framework has the potential to prioritize drug candidates with increased likelihood of approval.”

This comes soon after Illumina launched its new set of sequencing instruments—the NovaSeq X series, to maintain its position as the leader in next-gen sequencing. This series includes a pair of new instruments—the NovaSeq X and NovaSeq X Plus, which put the $200 genome within reach.

The AZ/Illumina collaboration leverages Illumina’s next generation of AI-based interpretation tools, PrimateAI and SpliceAI, in combination with AstraZeneca’s analysis framework for rare variant genomic discoveries—alongside the latter’s own AI tools, including JARVIS and in silico predictors like missense tolerance ratio.

Primate AI is a neural network trained on hundreds of thousands of genetic variants from human and animals designed to predict illness. SpliceAI is an open-source deep learning tool to determine mutations that could be linked to certain conditions.

As part of the research collaboration a framework combining the two companies’ AI-based tools will be adopted by AstraZeneca’s Centre for Genomics Research to analyze large-scale multi-omics data sets in its digital biobank. The complementary AI tools work to more confidently pinpoint genetic variants that contribute to human diseases, a critical step in the process of developing effective and safe therapies.

Slavé Petrovski, head of AstraZeneca’s Centre for Genomics Research, Discovery Sciences, R&D, said, “Continuous innovation in the AI tools and frameworks that are applied to the growing human genomics, transcriptomics, and proteomics medical research resources will enable us to answer some of the toughest questions and contribute to our aims of uncovering novel drug targets with a higher probability of success while also characterizing patient subgroups that are most likely to benefit from the treatments we discover.”

“The next generation of drug discovery lies at the intersection of human genetics and AI, making this a potentially pivotal research collaboration that combines Illumina’s industry-leading ability to interpret genomes at scale with AstraZeneca’s extensive capabilities in large-scale human genetics research,” said Alex Aravanis, chief technology officer of Illumina.

The pair says the research collaboration focuses on the ability of a combined framework to deliver differential performance across a broad range of human diseases. Upon its successful outcome, the two companies will assess opportunities for a long-term partnership.

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