Discovery, R&D

AstraZeneca, Cancer Research UK set up genomics hub to fight uphill battle against cancer

In the wake of two big failures for their checkpoint inhibitor/CTLA-4 combo, AstraZeneca $AZN is brushing its Brexit fear aside and pouring its R&D heft into a new center in partnership with Cancer Research UK, designed to harness the power of genomics to develop personalized cancer drugs.

The facility, which will be housed at the University of Cambridge, is hoping to tap into the potential of functional genomics, in particular the gene editing tool CRISPR, to better understand cancer biology and genetic drivers of drug resistance, in a bid to bring treatments to patients faster.

Greg Hannon

“As we develop high-quality standardised techniques through the centre, we can create more sophisticated and powerful biological models of disease, handle larger and more complex data sets, and identify successful cancer drug targets with better accuracy,” professor Greg Hannon, director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, said in a statement on Monday.

AstraZeneca is hardly the first drugmaker to set its sights on genomics to tackle hard-to-treat diseases, such as cancer. It joins fellow British drugmaker GSK $GSK, who earlier this year tied up with 23andMe to gain access to the latter’s database — to look for disease relevant genes. Across the Atlantic, Regeneron $REGN has carved out its own genetics centre, Amgen $AMGN has sharpened its ability to identify and validate disease targets with its investment in Oxford Nanopore Technologies and acquisition of deCODE genetics, while Vertex $VRTX has partnered with UK-based Genomics plc on their platform for genetics and machine learning.

Preliminary research at the AstraZeneca/Cancer Research UK Centre is expected to begin January next year, with laboratory work expected to commence in the second half of 2019.

Cancer Research UK is a charity that has long catalyzed research into cancer therapeutics, vaccines as well as diagnostics, and has previously forged partnerships with other drugmakers such as Teva $TEVA and Merck $MRK.

The battle against cancer has long taken up a large chunk of the National Health Service budget, with an aging population and flagrant lifestyles culminating in high rates of cancer — every two minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with the disease, according to the charity.


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Skyhawk Therapeutics Waltham, MA
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Elektroki Boston, MA
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