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GEN News Highlights : Jan 13, 2014

Geisinger Collab Fuels Launch of Regeneron Genetics Center

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals today announced that it has launched a new human genetics initiative, the Regeneron Genetics Center (RGC). The RGC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Regeneron, has been configured to pursue both population-based and family-based approaches in human genetics, in efforts to define disease targets and improve the drug development process.

Central to the work of the RGC will be a collaboration with the Geisinger Health System (GSH) of Pennsylvania. A collaboration is also in place with the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health, and the RGC intends to develop relationships with other academic, government, and integrated medical systems.

The RGC/GHS collaboration, which was also announced today, will include one of the largest U.S. populations of participants for the analysis and sequencing of genetic material and comparison to long-term health outcomes. During the initial five-year collaboration term, the GHS plans to collect samples from more than 100,000 consented patient volunteers. For its part, the RGC will perform sequencing and genotyping to generate de-identified genomic data. The size and scope of the study are meant to allow great precision in identifying and validating the associations between genes and human disease.

In general, the RGC/GHS Study is designed to leverage clinical information and molecular data for medically relevant associations in a blinded fashion that preserves patients’ privacy. The intent of the collaboration is to build a high-throughput platform for discovering and validating genetic factors that cause or influence a range of diseases where there are major unmet medical needs.

“For Geisinger, this relationship is about the potential to improve individualized patient care,” commented David H. Ledbetter, Ph.D., executive vice president and CSO of GHS. “This collaboration has the potential to provide Geisinger with tools to transform our ability to foresee disease before the onset of symptoms, diagnose chronic and potentially fatal conditions before it's too late to intervene, and determine how best to optimize the health and well-being for each of our patients.”

For Regeneron, the collaboration is the first step in a planned expansion in the use of human genetics in the research process. “Genetics has been at the core of our research efforts at Regeneron since its early days,” said George D. Yancopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., CSO and president, Regeneron Laboratories. “We believe that now is the time to increase our commitment to, and investment in, human genetics research.”

With respect to Regeneron’s technology, Andrew J. Murphy, Ph.D., senior vice president of research at Regeneron Laboratories, added, “One of the unique aspects of the Regeneron human genetics research effort is our ability to validate putative disease-gene associations using our proprietary VelociGene® technology. Moreover, our VelocImmune® technology has already proven itself ideal for developing novel therapeutics to disease targets defined using human genetics.”

Commenting specifically about the RGC, Dr. Murphy explained, “The RGC is an important investment in large-scale genetic research that we believe represents a powerful integrated approach that we hope will go all the way from gene discoveries to novel therapeutics.”

The RGC/GHS collaboration, say Regeneron and Geisinger, will benefit from Geisinger’s sample collection and storage capabilities, the MyCode™ biorepository, and extensive electronic medical records. “We are pleased to be embarking on this next-generation human genetic sequencing project with Geisinger, a renowned integrated health care delivery system known for its innovation,” said Leonard S. Schleifer, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of Regeneron.

Over the last year, Regeneron has been recruiting key members of the RGC team, including John Overton, Ph.D., former associate director of the Yale Center for Genome Analysis, who will be leading the center’s sequencing effort, and Jeffrey Reid, Ph.D., formerly assistant professor at the Human Genome Sequencing Center at Baylor College of Medicine, who will lead the informatics group. Aris Baras, M.D., director of R&D initiatives, who with other internal leaders helped launch the program, will serve as deputy head of the RGC. Recruiting continues for a variety of specialized positions, including heads of its analytical and translational genetics efforts.