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Genetics Unzipped podcast: Making better medicines – unlocking the promise of genomics for drug discovery

In the latest episode of Genetics Unzipped, presenter Kat Arney finds out how researchers are unlocking the information hidden within the human genome using new technologies like CRISPR gene editing and artificial intelligence with the aim of developing better medicines and getting them faster to the patients who need them.

80% or more promising new therapeutics fail somewhere along the drug discovery journey, either because of unacceptable side effects or because – to put it simply – they just don’t work. And, it turns out, that’s usually because the underlying scientific idea, and therefore the target, is wrong.

So, in order to make better drugs and get them to patients faster, we need to find better targets that are relevant to the underlying biology of disease, not just treating symptoms. Then we need to make sure these proteins are actually doing what we think they’re doing, and finally start looking for drugs that work on them.

Hunting for new targets in the genome

Arney speaks with Steve Rees, who leads the Discovery Biology group at AstraZeneca. He and his colleagues are focusing on this very first step of the drug discovery journey: coming up with the new ideas and targets that could lead to the new medicines of tomorrow.

David Goldstein, Professor of Genetics at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York and chief advisor for AstraZeneca’s Centre for Genomics Research, discusses the challenges of trawling through billions of ‘letters’ of DNA from hundreds or even thousands of people in search of genetic variations that might be linked to disease and could point towards an exciting new target for drug development – and, importantly, identifying the right patients who might benefit from them.

Using AI to gain new insights

The latest multi-omic datasets are growing ever larger and more complex, taking them far beyond the capability of a human brain, or even a simple computer, to analyse.

So it’s lucky that alongside the exponential rise in genomics and all the other ‘omics’ we’ve seen a similar expansion in computing capacity, with the development of sophisticated machine-learning algorithms and artificial intelligence, or AI as it’s more usually known.

Dave Michalovich, Vice President of Precision Medicine at Benevolent AI, explains why he and his colleagues have teamed up with AstraZeneca to smoosh all this data together to gain new insights for drug development.

Find out more about the challenges of discovering better targets in drug development in the latest post on AstraZeneca’s blog, Hitting the Bullseye.

Listen to the Genetics Unzipped podcast

Listen to the whole episode and find show notes and a full transcript at

Genetics Unzipped is the podcast from the UK Genetics Society, presented by award-winning science communicator Dr Kat Arney and produced by First Create the Media.  Follow Genetics Unzipped on Twitter @geneticsunzip, and the Genetics Society at @GenSocUK

Find Genetics Unzipped on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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