AstraZeneca has partnered with Cancer Research UK to open a functional genomics centre of excellence focused on accelerating the discovery and development of new oncology medicines.

The Joint Cancer Research UK – AstraZeneca Functional Genomics Centre will be situated at the Milner Therapeutics Institute at the University of Cambridge in the UK.

AstraZeneca and Cancer Research UK will have independent access to the centre’s facilities.

At the centre, the partners’ scientists will work on genetic screening, cancer modelling and big data processing to gain more understanding on the function and interaction of genes and proteins in cancer.

Genome-altering technologies, including CRISPR, will be leveraged for obtaining better insights into the cancer biology and to create biological models that are more reflective of human disease.

The centre will also advance computational approaches that are intended to inform new druggable targets in cancer by using clinical insights.

Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute director Greg Hannon said: “After two decades of effort, we’re making fast progress but we’re still only just beginning to tap into the full potential of CRISPR and to understand how this is applied alongside other functional genomics approaches.

“This new centre of excellence  will combine our expertise in functional genomics and CRISPR technology to accelerate the development of new cancer medicines for patients.”

“As we develop high-quality standardised techniques through the centre, we can create more sophisticated and powerful biological models of disease, handle larger and more complex data sets, and identify successful cancer drug targets with better accuracy.”

Scientists at the centre will have access to the next generation of CRISPR libraries under an ongoing partnership between AstraZeneca and the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

The partnership includes access to the Wellcome Sanger Institute’s recent human and mouse genome-wide CRISPR/Cas9 knockout libraries and Cas9 and dual gRNA expression vectors.

AstraZeneca Innovative Medicines & Early Development executive vice-president Mene Pangalos said: “This new centre of excellence with Cancer Research UK will combine our expertise in functional genomics and CRISPR technology to identify new biological pathways driving disease and will accelerate the development of new cancer medicines for patients.”

The pharmaceutical giant has separately partnered with US-based Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) to explore the use of CRISPR in identifying potential treatment strategies for DNA Damage Response (DDR) inhibitors in oncology.