Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca is joining forces with several heavy hitters in genetic sequencing to mine up to 2 million people’s genomes for new drug targets. The London-based company today launched an in-house genomics center that will swap data and samples with Human Longevity Inc. (HLI)—geneticist J. Craig Venter’s ambitious genomics startup—and will embed a research team in the United Kingdom’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. The company expects that whole genomes, combined with individual health data, will reveal rare genetic variants that influence disease and suggest new drug targets.
Given that only about 100,000 people in the world have had their entire genomes sequenced to date, the new resource would be unprecedented, says geneticist Eric Topol of the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California, who is not involved in the partnership. Other pharma companies have made big investments in genomic data. Amgen’s 2012 takeover of deCODE Genetics’s 140,000-person volunteer database was “somewhat of a precursor to this,” Topol says, but was limited to an Icelandic population and didn’t include whole genomes for every participant. “This is about finally getting some horsepower to get us to the big data, whole genome level,” he says.