AstraZeneca and the Montreal Heart Institute (MHI) are collaborating on a genome project involving searching for genes associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes in 80,000 patients. The largest project of its type to date, the new effort is intended to aid understanding of biologic mechanisms that factor into these diseases and their complications. It will also look into which genetic traits are tied to improved treatment options.

MHI researchers will analyze patient DNA samples stored at AstraZeneca’s biobank, including tissue and blood samples collected over a 12-year period for patients enrolled in clinical trials to test cardiovascular and diabetes treatments.

“This partnership has the potential to deliver an unprecedented amount of clinical and scientific information about cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. We expect to identify genes that are associated with more severe forms of disease, and those that are associated with treatment outcome,” said Ruth March, vice president at AstraZeneca’s Personalised Healthcare and Biomarkers, in a prepared statement. “The information will help us to develop new medicines for these conditions and to target them to the patients who respond best using biomarkers and companion diagnostic tests.”

The Beaulieu-Saucier Pharmacogenomics Centre at MHI initially will use genome-wide single nucleotide polymorphism analysis to spot DNA regions that cause or predispose people to develop diabetes or cardiovascular disease—or that are tied to treatment response. They’ll then use technologies such as next-generation sequencing to conduct full gene sequencing to help look for new genes associated with these diseases or tied to such complications as diabetic nephropathy or retinopathy, heart attacks, strokes—as well as those associated with treatment outcomes such as medication responsiveness.

What researchers learn from this data could be applied in the future to developing new medications that can be tailored to treat people with specific genetic profiles. It could be used to personalize approaches to treating patients with existing therapies by providing a better method of identifying who is most likely to respond to particular treatments.

"This large-scale partnership between AstraZeneca and the Montreal Heart Institute holds great potential for breakthroughs in personalized cardiovascular medicine whereby medications will be tailored to responsive patients based on their genetic profile,” said Jean-Claude Tardif, MD, director of the Montreal Heart Institute Research Center and holder of both the Canada Research Chair in personalized and translational medicine and the Université de Montréal endowed research chair in atherosclerosis, in a prepared statement. “We at the MHI Pharmacogenomics Centre have the expertise and high-throughput genomic platforms to carry out successfully and efficiently this important research program.”