Sanger Institute and Astrazeneca partner on genome editing for drug discovery

29 January 2015

A major new partnership between the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the global pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca will focus on genome editing to boost drug discovery.

The celebrated new CRISPR technique for  rapid, accurate genome editing is opening all sorts of doors for genomic manipulation and associated applications. The Sanger Institute, a world-leader in genome sequencing and analysis, also has related strings to its bow, including expertise in the CRISPR-Cas9 technology and a genome-wide library of more than 90,000 guide RNAs – synthesised small molecules that direct CRISPR-Cas9 complexes (dubbed ‘genetic scissors’ ) to excise specific sections of the genome.

AstraZeneca will use this library to create multiple human or mouse cell lines, each with a specific gene disabled, and examine the effects. The hope is that this research will allow accelerated identification of new drug targets and evaluation of potential new drugs directed against them, focusing initially on cancer and cardiometabolic conditions.

Dr Kosuke Yusa of the Sanger Institute, who developed the guide RNA library, said: "CRISPR has transformed the way we study the behaviour of cells and now the application of this powerful technology to the search for effective drugs has the potential to benefit patients".

Dr Lorenz Mayr, Vice President for Reagents and Assay Development at AstraZeneca said: "Application of the CRISPR technology for precise genome editing in recombinant cell lines and in relevant disease models should enable us to identify novel targets, build better test systems for drug discovery and enhance the translatability of our efficacy and safety models".

AstraZeneca will also be collaborating with a number of US partners in a similar manner: the Innovative Genomics Initiative (University of California, Berkeley, and University of California in San Francisco) the Broad Institute, Whitehead Institute and Thermo Fisher Scientific.

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