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Genomics on the mind
September 2009
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author


BRANFORD, Conn.—Big Pharma player Eli Lilly and Co. and SeqWright, a provider of custom genomic and molecular biology services, will be teamed up with a pair of business units under the Roche Applied Science umbrella to use leading-edge genomic technologies to identify genetic variants possibly associated with various psychiatric diseases, under a deal announced July 30. The two Roche companies are 454 Life Sciences and Roche NimbleGen, and they will come into play primarily with SeqWright using NimbleGen Sequence Capture technology to selectively enrich approximately 40 megabases of the human genome and then comprehensively sequencing them using 454 Life Sciences' Genome Sequencer FLX System.
According to Roche, this process will give Houston, Texas-based SeqWright access to the most advanced genomic technologies and "the ability to transform the drug discovery process by reducing the time and money necessary for researchers to identify potentially clinically informative genetic variations."
Lilly's goal in this four-way collaboration is, as with so many other pharmaceutical and research activities of the company, to improve the outcomes of individual patients, says Dr. Brian Edmonds, research advisor for the Global External Research and Development division of Indianapolis-based Lilly. Increasing the speed at which Lilly and other players can begin to understand the basis of psychiatric diseases is critical to improving those patient outcomes.
"Just a year ago, it would have been impossible to imagine how we could selectively sequence such a large portion of the human genome in such a fast and cost-effective manner," Edmonds notes. "We are participating in this collaboration as a way to better examine the root causes of various psychiatric diseases. If this project delivers as expected, we hope to identify new biomarkers or novel drug targets for future development of medicines to treat an array of psychiatric illnesses."  
The psychiatric disease market is a significant one for Lilly, and the company has four major marketed drugs in this area. Among the most recent is Cymbalta, introduced in 2004 for major depressive disorder and later approved for generalized anxiety disorder in 2007 and maintenance treatment of major depressive disorder in 2007. Another is Symbyax, introduced in 2004 for bipolar depression and then approved this year for acute treatment of adult patients with major depressive disorder who have not responded to two separate trials of different antidepressants of adequate dose and duration in their current episode. 
A third major drug in the psychiatric arena is Strattera, introduced in 2003 for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, adolescents, and adults and then approved in 2008 for maintenance treatment of ADHD in children and adolescents. The fourth major marketed psychiatric drug is Zyprexa, which came onto the scene in 1996 for schizophrenia and got approval for acute bipolar mania in 2000. It was also released in tablet form under the name Zydis for schizophrenia maintenance in 2001, as combination therapy with lithium or valproate for acute bipolar mania in 2002, and for bipolar maintenance in 2003. It also was marketed in a rapid-acting intramuscular formulation in 2004, in granule form in 2004 in Japan only, and most recently as Zypadhera this year—a long-acting injectable formulation for maintenance treatment of adult patients with schizophrenia who were sufficiently stabilized during acute treatment with oral olanzapine.
For SeqWright, part of the appeal of the deal is that the company actively desires to continue investing in cutting-edge technologies to help change and expand the ways in which researchers can advance their understanding of human genetics says Dr. Fei Lu, CEO of SeqWright.
"We have previously used the combination of NimbleGen capture arrays with the 454 Sequencing System in other areas with great success," Lu notes; in fact, Roche NimbleGen in March 2009 announced the availability of Sequence Capture services through a partnership with SeqWright under which Lu's company will provide targeted resequencing services that couple Roche NimbleGen's Sequence Capture microarray technology with SeqWright's existing 454 Genome Sequencer FLX sequencing services.
"The possibility to advance the scope of these technologies, from basic research applications to use in clinical research applications in the future, is showing enormous potential," Lu says. "As a CLIA-certified facility, where we employ and evaluate these new research technologies, we are ready to help move the industry closer to the goal of personalized medicine in the future, where identifying genetic variations within the human genome in a fast and accurate method will be of paramount importance."

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