Aiming to Push Genomics Forward

Andrew Pollack in The New York Times:

Here comes genomics, Take 2.

Genome2-articleLargePharmaceutical companies invested heavily in genetic studies in the frenzy after the sequencing of the human genome a decade ago, only to find it did not lead to the expected bonanza of new drugs. Now, however, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, a fast-growing biotechnology company, is undertaking an ambitious new genomics effort, in partnership with the Geisinger Health System, which treats three million people in Pennsylvania. Regeneron will sequence DNA from about 100,000 volunteers among Geisinger’s patients, seeking genetic variants linked to different diseases that may provide clues to developing new drugs. Geisinger, in turn, hopes to use the genetic information to improve patient care.

It now costs several thousand dollars to sequence a complete genome, meaning to determine the order of the three billion chemical units of DNA — usually represented by the letters A, C, G and T — in a person’s chromosomes. Even that is still too expensive for a project of this scope. So at first Regeneron will sequence just the exome, the 1 to 2 percent of the DNA that contains the recipes for proteins. A complete exome can be sequenced for less than $1,000. Similar projects are also beginning, though mostly in the public sector. Britain and Saudi Arabia have each announced plans to sequence 100,000 genomes. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs plans to collect DNA from one million veterans. Various medical centers and health systems have smaller projects. The biotechnology giant Amgen paid $415 million about a year ago to acquire deCODE Genetics, which had determined, partly through calculations, the genome sequences of 300,000 people in Iceland.

More here.