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Regeneron, Geisinger Health to Partner on Genetic Sequencing

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Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Tarrytown, New York and Geisinger Health System, a health care provider in Pennsylvania, are studying genetic causes of disease among the 2.6 million residents in areas served by Geisinger’s facilities. Financial terms of the five-year agreement were not disclosed.

Under the deal, Geisinger will collect blood specimens from 100,000 Geisinger patients who agree to be part of the study, with personal identifying information removed from the samples. Regeneron will analyze the sequence of nucleic acids in the DNA of the specimens collected and genetic variations among those sequences, which can be associated with disease conditions, and thus help determine links between one’s genetic make-up and the likelihood of disease. The sample of 100,000 participants is needed, say the organizations, to allow for more precise associations between genetics and disease.

Geisinger clinicians take the specimens at health clinics serving 44 counties in northeast and central Pennsylvania in what the health system calls its MyCode program. So far, some 60,000 blood specimens, each about two tablespoons, have been taken from 23,000 participants. The blood specimens are sent to Geisinger’s genetics lab, where personal identifiers are removed and a randomly-generated research code is assigned.

A secure key in a table accessible only to the genomic researchers connects the blood specimen data to the individual’s electronic health record. Geisinger maintains extensive electronic health records in a database of some three million patients, including data on lifestyle, digital imaging, clinical notes, and lab tests. Patients can access their records through a MyGeisinger portal and mobile app.

The collaboration is expected to provide Regeneron with more precise data for discovery of new drugs to treat genetic conditions and support other drug candidates already in the pipeline. The company earlier took part on a program with National Institutes of Health to create “knockout mice,” with specific genes disrupted or engineered for preclinical lab testing. Regeneron’s VelociGene and VelocImmune programs are two results of that initiative.

Geisinger anticipates the collaboration will make it possible for clinicians to provide more individualized care to their patients. “This collaboration has the potential to provide Geisinger with tools,” says David Ledbetter, Geisinger’s chief scientist, in a company statement, “to transform our ability to foresee disease before the onset of symptoms, diagnose chronic and potentially fatal conditions before it’s too late to intervene, and determine how best to optimize the health and well-being for each of our patients.”

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