* Drugmakers to sequence DNA from UK Biobank participants
* Project to deliver first genetic data within a year
* Gene variations could point way to new medicines
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, March 23 Britain's GlaxoSmithKline
and U.S.-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals are
embarking on a joint project with UK Biobank, the world's most
detailed biomedical database, to hunt for new clues linking
genes and disease.
By analysing genetic variations and health in 500,000
middle-aged and older Britons, the partners said on Thursday
they hoped to identify promising leads for new medicines.
The aim is to analyse DNA from an initial 50,000 samples by
the end of 2017, using Regeneron's large gene sequencing centre
in New York. Completing a gene sweep for all 500,000
participants is expected to take three to five years.
The move marks an acceleration of investment by drugmakers
in genetic science, as industrial-scale sequencing and falling
costs allow research teams to quickly test for the effect of
gene variations across thousands of individuals.
GSK's British rival AstraZeneca signed a similar
deal with genome pioneer Craig Venter a year ago to sequence
genes from up to 2 million people over 10 years.
Volunteers aged between 40 and 69 first checked into the UK
Biobank between 2006 and 2010, donating blood and other
biological samples and agreeing to have their health followed
through medical records over many years.
Lon Cardon, head of target sciences at GSK R&D, said the
database was now coming into its own as an information source as
growing numbers of participants start to develop conditions from
cancer to dementia, which can be cross-checked against genes.
GSK and Regeneron will get nine months exclusivity to pore
over the initial trawl of data before the information is made
openly available to other scientists. Any research findings will
also be put back into the public domain.
Both drug companies hope the information throws up new
opportunities for drug development, but they view the exercise
Apart from paying the cost of sample retrieval and shipping,
GSK and Regeneron will not be charged by UK Biobank. Instead,
they will effectively make a "payment in kind" by sequencing the
DNA for future use by the wider scientific community.
Sequencing all the protein-encoding parts of all the genes
from the project's 500,000 participants will cost an estimated
$150 million. Such so-called exome sequencing costs about $300
per individual, against $1,000 for whole genome sequencing.
All the genetic and other medical data collected by UK
Biobank has been anonymised and participants will not get any
feedback on their individual circumstances.
(Editing by Susan Thomas)