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Genomics Boosting Drug Pipelines

LIFE SCIENCE: Illumina Teams with AZN

Illumina and AstraZeneca have inked a “strategic research collaboration” that will combine the companies’ strengths in AI-based genome interpretation and genomic analysis to speed drug target discovery.

The partnership between the two global life science powerhouses, announced earlier this month (Oct. 11), aims to improve efficiencies in pharma pipelines by leveraging identification of genetic variants.

San Diego-based Illumina Inc. (NASDAQ: ILMN), a global leader in DNA sequencing and array-based technologies, will team with British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biotech firm AstraZeneca (NASDAQ:AZN) to evaluate whether a combined framework of Ai and genomic analysis technologies can increase the yield and confidence of target discovery to find promising new drugs.

Joydeep Goswami
Chief Strategy and Corporate Development Officer/Interim CFO

“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.”

Goswami said the collaboration will leverage 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.

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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 Centre for Genomics Research, Discovery Sciences, R&D

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.”

Officials at both companies say AI will play a pivotal role in the future of genomic sequencing and drug discovery.

“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.

Alex Aravanis
Chief Technology Officer

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.

Founded in 1999 and based in Cambridge, England, AstraZeneca’s subsidiaries include Alexion Pharmaceuticals, TeneoTwo, Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Acerta Pharma.

The pharma giant notched $36.5 billion in product sales in 2021 and had 14 positive Phase III clinical trial readouts across nine different drugs last year, including approvals  for the company’s COVID-19 preventative drug Evusheld and Tezspire, an injected asthma medicine AstraZeneca developed in partnership with Amgen.

Illumina Inc.

CEO: Francis deSouza
REVENUE: $4.5 billion (2021)
WEBSITE: illumina.com
NOTABLE: Illumina is the world’s leading genomic sequencing company.


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