AZ makes personalised medicine plays

AstraZeneca (AZ) has signed a brace of deals that signal its intention to press on with the development of personalised medicines in the areas of asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Announcing the alliances, Ruth March, vice president of personalised healthcare and biomarkers at AZ, said that, while personalised healthcare has been transformative in cancer treatment, it has been “slower to reach … common disease areas such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease.”

The first deal, with the Montreal Heart Institute (MHI) in Canada, will concentrate on searching the genomes of around 80,000 people for genes associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes and link them to ‘complications and treatment outcomes’.

The DNA samples will be taken from AZ’s own Biobank and MHI researchers will use genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) analyses, which look for variations between genes, to find sequences of interest.

They will also sequence the genes and try to find those closely linked to specific diseases, the complications of disease such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetic nephropathy or retinopathy, and treatment outcomes in terms of responsiveness to drugs.

“This is one of the largest such screens of its type to date and will drive understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying these conditions and their complications,” said AZ.

The project comes at a time when there is considerable momentum behind population-wide genome screening to help personalise patient care, such as the UK National Health Service’s 100,000 Genomes Project, which started enrolling patients earlier this year, and the $215 million Precision Medicine Initiative in the US.

AZ said the findings from the collaboration will be published in peer-review journals in accordance with its ‘open innovation approach to R&D’.

Asthma diagnostic

The second deal – with Abbott – is for a project rather closer to market, and focuses on the development of a companion diagnostic that will be used to select patients for treatment with AZ’s asthma drug tralokinumab, which is in phase III testing.

At the moment there are no approved companion diagnostics for respiratory disease therapies, according to AZ. Abbott’s diagnostic will be used in the phase III trials programme for tralokinumab and could be commercialised alongside the interleukin-13 (IL-13) inhibitor if it gets regulatory approval.

Specifically, Abbott will develop a kit that will measure serum levels of the periostin and DPP4, two proteins which serve as biomarkers for increased IL-13 activity.

While the symptoms of asthma are common between patients, the underlying inflammatory pathways in the disease can be markedly different and in a proportion of cases is thought to result from elevated IL-13 levels.

AZ started phase III trials of tralokinumab last year in patients with severe asthma who experience breakthrough symptoms despite being treated with corticosteroids and long-acting beta agonists.

Bing Yao, who heads the respiratory, inflammation and autoimmunity innovative medicines facility in AZ’s MedImmune biologics unit, said: “we are on the cusp of a new era in personalised healthcare, one which will see great improvements for patients treated with respiratory medicines.”

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