CHICAGO (Reuters) - Until recently, whole genome sequencing - technology that allows researchers to map all of an individual’s 20,500 genes - was prohibitively expensive, costing about $20,000 just five years ago.
As of last year, the cost had come down to around $1,500 per genome. That has made it possible for drugmakers to use the technology on a massive scale to look for new drug targets.
They are sequencing the DNA of very large patient populations to find rare genes that play a crucial role in either causing disease, or protecting people from illness.
Below is a sampling of these efforts:
—Amgen in late 2012 bought Decode Genetics for $415 million in cash to gain access to a database of complete genetic sequences of 2,636 Icelanders. Researchers have used that data to model the genomes of another 100,000 Icelanders.
In March, Amgen reported in Nature Genetics the discovery of a new gene that raises a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and confirmed the role of two mutations involved in diabetes and atrial fibrillation.
—In January 2014, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc signed a deal with Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania to sequence DNA from as many as 250,000 volunteers from Geisinger’s pool of 3 million patients.
—In January 2015, Roche Holding AG agreed to pay more than $1 billion for a majority stake in Foundation Medicine Inc, a genomic analysis company that tests patients’ tumors for mutations driving their cancers.
That same month, Roche’s Genentech unit inked a multi-year deal with Craig Venter’s Human Longevity Inc to sequence and analyze hundreds of thousands of genomes from patients in its clinical trials, aiming to identify new drug targets.
Genentech is also working with privately-held 23andMe to generate whole genome sequencing data for about 3,000 people with Parkinson’s disease to identify new treatments for the degenerative neurological condition.
Garret Hampton, a Genentech vice president, said the company preferred to collaborate with partners that already have genetic and detailed health information on patients, rather than build its own database. “It’s hitting the ground running,” he said.
—Pfizer Inc in January announced an expanded collaboration with 23andMe giving the drugmaker access to its database of genes and medical histories to help Pfizer’s study of the autoimmune disease lupus.
Last August, Pfizer partnered with 23andMe for data on thousands of patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease to better understand why treatments help control symptoms for some, but not others, said Jose-Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, a group senior vice president at Pfizer.
—In March, 23andMe said it will build a drug discovery arm using its database of DNA and health information on roughly 650,000 people. The effort will be led by Richard Scheller, Genentech’s former head of drug discovery.
—In January, Biogen Inc formed a $30 million research alliance with the Institute for Genomic Medicine at Columbia University.
Tim Harris, a senior vice president at Biogen who heads the company’s newly formed precision medicine group, said the company is focusing on very targeted diseases such as multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Through the partnership, scientists have sequenced protein-making genes from around 3,000 patients with ALS and 6,500 control subjects and discovered a new ALS gene. The findings were published in February in the journal Science.
“What has changed fundamentally is not the philosophy that we need to understand more about disease by looking at genetics. What has changed is our ability to do it,” Harris said.
Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Martin Howell