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Interview with Dr Luigi Grassi, Informatics Scientist, AstraZeneca

I’m Luigi Grassi and I’m an Informatics Scientist at AstraZeneca. I’m responsible for designing and performing bioinformatical analyses of the high throughput sequencing experiments we use to characterise stable cell lines expressing biotherapeutics.

FLG: What motivated you to pursue a career in this field?

I’m a biologist and my primary interest is to solve biological problems. I see bioinformatics and genomics as powerful tools to do it. I’m also impressed by how quickly genomics is evolving. During my Masters, I remember many of my colleagues and I were impressed by the completion of the first sequencing of the human genome. It was the end of a long project involving scientists from different institutions around the world. Since then, many things have changed and nowadays the sequencing of a single individual is very common practice and can be done in a very short time.

FLG: What is biotherapeutics and what are some of its current applications?

Biotherapeutics are medicines produced from biological sources such as living cell lines, and are an important class of drugs in oncology, anti-immunity, and chronic inflammatory diseases.

FLG: Are there any problems that arise when selecting cell lines during biotherapeutic production?

Because we rely on cells to express biotherapeutic proteins, we must consider that cells can accumulate variants in their genome and these variants can directly modify the biotherapeutic product or affect its functionality and stability. In a recent study we published, we highlighted the importance of using high-throughput sequencing analysis and proteomics to characterize a variant we found in early process development of a product.

FLG: What are some of the methods for screening cell lines?

There are several methods based on proteomic analysis aimed to ensure the integrity of the final product. In parallel to these analyses, we also characterise the transcriptome of stable cell lines in order to further confirm the quality of the product and monitor other processes happening in the cell.

FLG: Do you see any major breakthroughs happening in genomics?

Genomics has experienced a real explosion of data in recent years, with more and more genomes and transcriptomes being sequenced. What is important now is to properly mine these data. Artificial Intelligence and machine learning tools are great in handling very large datasets and come to our help for this purpose. This is somehow changing the perspective of the data we have from single-small datasets to large global datasets.

FLG: Why did you decide to take part in the Festival of Genomics this year?

I was really attracted to the programme. There were plenty of talks and open discussion sessions and I was looking forward to attending. I also like the organisation of the Festival and the fact that the Festival aims to reach everyone interested in Genomics and not exclusively people in the Genomics community.

For those interested in data-driven drug development, join us in Basel later this year at D4 Europe. To find out more about this event and to register go to

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