Five months after announcing its intentions to gather genome sequences from 2 million people, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has selected geneticist David Goldstein to head up the task.
In an era of ambitious genomics projects, a ten-year-long, 2-million strong initiative seems a logical next step. But the pharmaceutical industry has a spotty history with genomics. Many companies invested heavily in the approach around the turn of the century, and some analysts now blame that enthusiasm for the spiralling research and development costs — and poor return on investment — that ensued. Well-stocked databases, the industry learned, do not always translate into well-stocked drug-development pipelines.
But Goldstein, who will keep his academic position at Columbia University in New York City, believes that genomics’ time has finally come. Sequencing is cheaper, allowing researchers to amass larger reams of data. Electronic medical records can tie that data to a person’s clinical history. And new laboratory techniques to test the function of particular DNA sequences (CRISPR, anyone?) allow researchers to determine whether the genetic quirk they are studying has any functional relevance for a protein, a drug or a patient.
Goldstein talked to Nature from AstraZeneca headquarters in Cambridge, UK, about his new consulting gig and why getting his hands on 2 million genome sequences is only the beginning. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
It’s fair to say that AstraZeneca, like other big pharma companies, has been involved in genomics studies for years. The difference now is really, a) one of scale, and b) one of centralization and coordination. We’re really going to try to bring these activities together into a centre for genomics research.
[One thing] I would say is really building up the …