UK Biobank announced a major research initiative with GSK and the Regeneron Genetics Center (RGC) to generate genetic sequence data from the 500,000 volunteer participants in the UK Biobank resource. The initiative will enable researchers to gain valuable insights to support advances in the development of new medicines for a wide range of serious and life threatening diseases.
Genetic evidence has revolutionised scientific discovery and drug development in recent years by providing clear links between genes and disease. Currently, an estimated 90% of potential medicines entering clinical trials fail to demonstrate the necessary efficacy and safety, and never reach patients. Many of these failures are due to an incomplete understanding of the link between the biological target of a drug and human disease. By contrast, medicines developed with human genetic evidence have had substantially higher success rates and patient care has benefited.
UK Biobank is the world’s most comprehensive health resource. It has been collecting information and samples from its 500,000 participants for the past ten years, and ensures that data provided to health researchers does not identify them. RGC and GSK have committed an initial investment to enable the sequencing of the first 50,000 samples, to be completed before the end of 2017. Sequencing of UK Biobank’s samples will be carried out at the RGC, New York, one of the world’s largest human genetics sequencing centres. Sequencing of the full 500,000 samples in UK Biobank is expected to take three to five years.
Consistent with the founding principles of UK Biobank, these sequence data will be incorporated back into UK Biobank’s resource following a standard exclusivity period for GSK and Regeneron (9 months for the initial phase) and made openly available to the broader scientific community. Research findings will also be submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journals.
Sir Rory Collins, UK Biobank Principal Investigator and BHF Professor of Medicine & Epidemiology at Oxford University, said: “As a result of the altruism and continued support of our volunteer participants, UK Biobank has amassed an enormous amount of securely-stored health, lifestyle, medical and biological data. Genetics research is already shaping better treatments. This exciting initiative is expected to start producing novel findings rapidly during this year and will make UK Biobank even more useful for health-related research.
“UK Government and charity medical research funders have invested about £200 million in UK Biobank. The costs of gene sequencing are falling, but doing it on a large scale involves highly-specialised capabilities and is expensive – with an estimated cost of $150 million if all 500,000 participants are sequenced. That is why academia and industry working together is so important. The initial investment by GSK and Regeneron will be a tremendous boost to the value of the UK Biobank resource for academic and industry researchers around the world, studying many different conditions.”
The RGC has previously sequenced DNA samples from more than 150,000 individuals and is now sequencing at a rate exceeding 150,000 individuals per year. The centre has successfully applied large-scale human genetics to discover new drug targets and validate existing development programmes, and has collaborated with more than 35 institutions around the world.
GSK has significant expertise in genomics and is increasingly incorporating the almost daily advances in this scientific field into its drug research programmes. A dedicated team of scientists focus on identifying new opportunities for drug discovery based on genetically-validated drug targets, working across the Company’s R&D organisation, and through major external collaborations. GSK’s ‘Open Targets’ collaboration with the European Bioinformatics Institute, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and Biogen includes an open access research platform, which makes genetic and biological data openly available to support drug discovery. Over 60% of the targets selected for new GSK drug discovery programmes in 2016 are supported by human genetic evidence.
Comment from Patrick Vallance, President, R&D at GSK:
“I believe that we are in a new era of drug discovery because of a fundamental change in our understanding of human biology, driven largely by advances in human genetics. UK Biobank is one of the most important health resources available to scientists today, offering a rich source of information about health and disease.
“Having been actively involved in UK Biobank as a board member since 2013, I’m delighted that, through our collaboration with Regeneron, we can enrich this resource for the wider scientific community and also provide potential new opportunities for companies such as ours to develop new medicines for patients.
“It demonstrates how important the UK is as a centre for innovative research. GSK is committed to ensuring that the UK continues to be an environment that fosters collaboration and supports end-to-end scientific progress, ranging from cutting-edge genomics to the rapid uptake of new approaches and medicines by the NHS, which can ultimately benefit patients.”
Comment from George D Yancopoulos, MD, PhD, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Regeneron:
“Our large-scale sequencing and analysis capabilities, coupled with UK Biobank’s vast trove of de-identified biological and medical information, pose tremendous opportunities for clinically meaningful discoveries that can make a difference for patients. We have long-recognised that advancing the pace and clinical utility of human genetics research requires collaboration and an open exchange of data between industry, academia and public health groups, and we are pleased to expand upon our existing foundational research collaborations through this effort with the UK Biobank and GSK. For Regeneron, we believe this initiative will greatly enhance our existing efforts in gene discovery and genetics-guided drug development.”