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AstraZeneca Begins Four Gene-Editing Collaborations

CRISPR illustration

CRISPR illustration (AstraZeneca)

29 January 2015. The pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is taking part in collaborations with research institutes and a company in the U.S. and U.K. to discover new drug targets based on an emerging genome-editing technology. Financial and intellectual property details of the partnerships with Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Innovative Genomics Initiative, Broad Institute and Whitehead Institute, and Thermo Fisher Scientific were not disclosed.

Through the partnerships, AstraZeneca aims to apply clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats or CRISPR, a set of techniques designed to make precise changes in an individual’s genome. CRISPR directs an enzyme called Cas9 to edit genes in targeted cells, guided by RNA produced by the genome. There, Cas9 deactivates or replaces disease-causing mutations.

The company expects to use these techniques to identify and validate new preclinical therapy targets that resemble human disease. AstraZeneca says it will share its own cell lines with the partners, and cooperate with them in publishing the results.

With the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, in Cambridge, U.K., AstraZeneca plans to adapt RNA libraries compiled by geneticist faculty member Kosuke Yusa. The institute says Yusa’s libraries contain more than 90,00 RNAs that can be used to guide Cas9 enzymes to the particular genes for CRISPR editing. AstraZeneca is expected to provide cell lines to generate cell populations where defined genes are switched off by CRISPR. The collaboration is expected to be applied by AstraZeneca to discover therapy targets for cancer, cardiovascular, metabolic, respiratory, and autoimmune/inflammatory diseases, as well as regenerative medicine.

Innovative Genomics Initiative is a partnership between between University of California, Berkeley and University of California, San Francisco to advance research in CRISPR and Cas9. The collaboration with AstraZeneca aims to learn more about CRISPR functions that aim to inhibit or activate genes, and their impact on disease. The agreement is also expected to result in identification of new therapy targets across a range of diseases.

Another collaboration joins AstraZeneca with the combined efforts of two research institutes associated with Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Whitehead Institute is an independent biomedical research facility at MIT, yet still affiliated with MIT’s teaching program. The Broad Institute is a joint facility with Harvard University aimed at advanced systematic biomedical investigations. Both Whitehead and Broad institutes have experience with CRISPR that AstraZeneca plans to tap for identifying targets of new cancer drugs.

A separate partnership with Thermo Fisher Scientific, a provider of research instruments and materials, is expected to provide AstraZeneca with RNA libraries of known genes and gene families for guiding Cas9 enzymes. AstraZeneca says it plans to screen these libraries against cell lines to identify new disease targets. Life Technologies, a division of Thermo Fisher Scientific, offers a line of CRISPR-related services.

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Hat tip: FirstWord Pharma

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