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GlaxoSmithKline, Regeneron Partner to Sequence Entire UK Biobank

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have announced a new research initiative in partnership with the UK Biobank to sequence genomes from each of the biobank's approximately 500,000 volunteers.

The Regeneron Genetics Center, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Regeneron, will perform the sequencing. Regeneron and GSK have committed an undisclosed amount of funding to sequence the first 50,000 samples before the end of the year. Sequencing the rest of the samples will take three to five years, the organizations said. The RGC noted that it has the capacity to sequence 150,000 individuals per year.

Regeneron and GSK will have exclusive access to the sequencing data for nine months following the initial sequencing phase, after which it will be incorporated into the UK Biobank's resources. The firms said they will submit any research arising from the effort to peer-reviewed journals.

"The initial investment by GSK and Regeneron will be a tremendous boost to the value of the UK Biobank resource for academic and industry researchers around the world, studying many different conditions," Oxford University Professor and UK Biobank Principal Investigator Rory Collins said in a statement. "This exciting initiative is expected to start producing novel findings rapidly during this year and will make UK Biobank even more useful for health-related research."

He noted that it would take approximately $150 million to sequence all the samples.

The sequencing technology to be used was not specified, nor was the amount of genome coverage. However, in a note to investors today, Evercore ISI analyst Ross Muken said Regeneron was on the list of early adopters when Illumina unveiled its NovaSeq instrument in January.

He said the project could prove to be "an incremental positive to Illumina and highlights the benefits of the NovaSeq."

Illumina said that NovaSeq could eventually sequence a genome for $100; using the $150 million estimate for the UK Biobank project places the cost per genome at around $300, he said.

"The news gives us confidence in our NovaSeq placements estimates (235 in 2017), as we estimate the project could lead to an additional 20 NovaSeqs purchased if the project is to be run on NovaSeqs, (we estimate each NovaSeq can generate about 4,800 whole human genomes at 30x coverage per year – 4,800 x 20 to 30 boxes x five years = 500k samples)," he wrote.

This project also follows a November 2016 deal between Regeneron and Mount Sinai Health System to perform whole-exome sequencing on samples from the BioMe Biobank. And UK Biobank signed a similar collaboration deal with Affymetrix in 2013 to genotype the 500,000 individuals in its repository.