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Genomics festival celebrates the spirit of collaboration

The second annual Festival of Genomics was held at London’s ExCel Centre (31 January - 1 February) to provide a showcase for the ground-breaking research, technology and advances in medicine that this innovative field of study is producing both here and around the world. One of the key themes of the two-day event was on integrating data and how this can ultimately bring the benefits of genomics to patients, faster. Here, we take a closer look at the major talking points:

This year’s Festival of Genomics in London was a veritable mixing pot of the British and international genomics community, bringing together industry leaders, researchers, commercial businesses and pharma companies alongside students and many more in an exciting showcase of genomic science.

Across the two days, there were a number of seminars hosted by top industry speakers, and one of the key themes in question centred on how the genomics sector can better share data to quicken the pace of scientific advances.

Representatives from the Sanger Institute were at the Festival to talk about Open Target, a pioneering public–private initiative committed to speeding up the discovery of new medicines through the sharing of data.

Projects from Open Target – formerly known as the Centre for Therapeutic Target Validation – use genome-scale experiments to analysis various therapeutic targets and the likely effectiveness of pharmacological intervention on these targets. Open Target’s first experimental projects focused on oncology, respiratory and immuno-inflammatory diseases.

Understanding that the data collected from its projects could have far reaching uses throughout the scientific community – for research, academia and commercial drug development – Open Target has just released the datasets from its melanoma sequencing and cell-line epigenomes, as well as a Target Validation platform which allows users to browse data for 8,000 disease terms and over 24,000 genes.

While Open Target may be among the first to begin sharing its data in this way, it is unlikely to be the last. There is great excitement and investment in genomics both here and abroad, but ultimately there needs to be results if it is to maintain its current position. By fostering a spirit of collaboration across non-competitive institutes and businesses, the genomics sector can share large amounts of data and pool resources so that breakthroughs can be discovered quicker.

This approach could be local, national or indeed global – as in the case of Matchmaker Exchange. Matchmaker Exchange is an open collaborative project to bring together research from scientists across the world to find more common profiles in the study of rare diseases. By linking a number of teams and projects together in a single platform, the Matchmaker Exchange facilitates the matching of cases with similar phenotypic and genotypic profiles, which can help identify variant and causative genes in rare diseases.

So, in theory collaborative working in the genomics industry could be the way to bring the benefits of genomics to patients much faster, if parties are happy to surrender some of their competitive edge for the common good. Masses of data collected can be more quickly decoded and the industry will benefit and grow as a result.

For it to work in practice, however, there needs to be a standardisation of practice across research and data, and some debate about the ethical and regulatory boundaries of sharing information.

The route to real collaboration may yet hold a few obstacles for the genomics industry, but it is clear to see that with the spirit of co-operation already very much embedded in the culture, there will be much more to come from this innovative branch of the life sciences.

If you are interested in genomics, please contact us now about exciting new job opportunities in the sector.

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2nd March

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