Businessmen shaking hands in office
Businessmen shaking hands in office

Regeneron Genetics Center (RGC), a subsidiary of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, announced it will collaborate with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and UK Biobank to generate genetic sequence data from the health database's 500,000 volunteers participants, with the aim of providing new genetic evidence to researchers in developing new therapeutics across a broad range of diseases.

RGC and GSK have committed an undisclosed initial sum toward enabling the sequencing of the first 50,000 samples, to be completed before the end of 2017. Sequencing of all 500,000 samples collected by UK Biobank is expected to take 3 to 5 years.

Sequencing will focus specifically on the 1% to 2% of the genome known as the exome, or the protein encoding regions of the genome, which is believed to have the most relevance for drug therapy, UK Biobank said

Regeneron said RGC will carry out sequencing of the UK Biobank samples. Sequencing data will be incorporated back into UK Biobank and made openly available following an exclusivity period for GSK and Regeneron that runs 9 months for the collaboration’s initial phase. Research findings will be submitted to peer-reviewed journals for publication.

RGC applies large-scale human genetic data, with the goals of helping discover new drug targets and validate existing development programs. The center has collaborated with more than 35 institutions worldwide and sequenced DNA samples from more than 150,000 individuals, and is now sequencing at a rate exceeding 150,000 individuals per year, according to the company.

“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 can make a difference for patients,” said George D. Yancopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., Regeneron’s president and CSO, said in a statement.

UK Biobank has collected health, lifestyle, medical, and biological data from participants for 10 years. UK Biobank is funded by the Medical Research Council, Wellcome Trust, Department of Health, Welsh Government, Scottish Government, British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, and Diabetes UK.

“The costs of gene sequencing are falling, but doing it on a large scale involves highly specialized capabilities and is expensive—with an estimated cost of $150 million if all 500,000 participants are sequenced. That is why academia and industry working together is so important,” added Sir Rory Collins, UK  Biobank principal investigator and BHF Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Oxford University.

The collaboration will also add to GSK’s genomics efforts, which include its “Open Targets” open-access research collaboration with the European Bioinformatics Institute, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and Biogen. GSK says more than 60% of the targets selected for its new drug discovery programs last year were supported by human genetic evidence.

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