Scientist looking down microscope

The facility, based at the Milner Therapeutics Institute, will support the discovery of new medicines and diagnostics for chronic diseases by applying advanced biological and technological tools, including CRISPR gene editing.

A fantastic example of industry and academia working together to drive forward science that will have a real impact on people’s health in the UK and around the world.

Andy Neely

The University of Cambridge today announced a partnership with AstraZeneca and the Medical Research Council (MRC) to establish a new state-of-the-art functional genomics laboratory at the Milner Therapeutics Institute (MTI). The laboratory will become part of the UK’s Human Functional Genomics Initiative, contributing to the UK’s ambition of having the most advanced genomic healthcare system in the world.

Functional genomics investigates the effects and impacts of genetic changes in our DNA, and particularly how these contribute to disease. CRISPR makes it possible to test specific DNA alterations in a controlled way to investigate the effects and impacts of genetic changes in our DNA, revealing their effects on biological processes that cause disease. Finding these disease drivers is a key first step in the process of identifying potentially life-changing medicines for patients.

The new facility, which will be located within the MTI on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, will provide researchers from across the UK with access to large-scale biological and technological tools and house an advanced automated arrayed-CRISPR screening platform. It is hoped that through the use of tools, such as CRISPR gene editing to provide insights into the relationship between genes and disease, scientists will discover new opportunities to develop therapies for chronic diseases including cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic disease.

Professor Tony Kouzarides, Director of the Milner Therapeutics Institute, said: “The best science is founded on collaboration, and I am delighted that the Milner Therapeutics Institute is partnering with the MRC and AstraZeneca to launch this unique functional genomics laboratory. This will enable sharing of expertise and resources to deliver new diagnostics and treatments for people with chronic diseases.”

Professor Andy Neely, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Enterprise and Business Relations at the University of Cambridge, said: “This new collaboration with AstraZeneca and MRC is a fantastic example of industry and academia working together to drive forward science that will have a real impact on people’s health in the UK and around the world.”

Dr Jonathan Pearce, Director of Strategy and Planning, MRC, said: “We are working across UK Research and Innovation to improve health, ageing and wellbeing. Our investment in this new laboratory builds on the UK’s global leadership in genomics. Our support will enable the laboratory’s launch and provide access for researchers from across the UK. Through this investment, and the wider Human Functional Genomics Initiative, we will enhance the national ecosystem needed to improve our understanding of how genetic variance impacts health and disease.”

Sharon Barr, Executive Vice President, BioPharmaceuticals R&D, AstraZeneca, said: “Collaboration is crucial to achieving our ambition of transforming healthcare and delivering life-changing medicines for patients, and innovative partnership such as this one, allow us to share resources and expertise to advance science. This new laboratory created as part of the Human Functional Genomics Initiative, will be world-leading and will play a central role in shaping future functional genomics work across the UK and beyond.”

The lab, which is expected to become operational in 2024, will provide a centre of excellence and national resource that combines the strengths and expertise of academia and industry.  Its creation is part of a new partnership formed between MTI, AstraZeneca and MRC, and builds upon expertise gained through an existing collaboration between MTI, AstraZeneca and Cancer Research Horizons, known as the AstraZeneca-Cancer Research Horizons Functional Genomics Centre (FGC) that has been enabling advances in oncology research since 2018. The FGC is currently housed in the MTI and will be relocating next year.

MTI, AstraZeneca and the MRC’s Human Functional Genomics Initiative will share facilities, resources and knowledge working closely together to facilitate faster progress and innovations.

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