Advancing Avestagenome

Avesthagen and Harvard agree to share genomics knowledge, services

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Bangalore, INDIA—Avesthagen Ltd., which claims to be India's leading integrated systems biology platform company, has entered into a long-term genomics research collaboration with Harvard Medical School's Department of Genetics. The Indian firm clearly sees the agreement as a validation of its position within the international biopharma community.
In the words of its founder and chief medical director, Dr. Villoo Morawala Patell, "We are very privileged and excited to partner with Harvard Medical School in this collaborative effort. The Institute's vast experience in pioneering and supporting research work will ensure that internationally due recognition will be given to The Avestagenome Project."

The HMS-Avesthagen collaboration will focus initially on India's relatively small but cohesive Parsi population, which suffers from "disease at unusual rates," says Dr. David Reich, associate professor at HMS. He adds that the goal is to understand the structure of Parsi populations and the historical and genetic relationship with groups in India and elsewhere and to search for genes that cause the high incidence of disease among the Parsi people. The study aims to predict disease risk and to play a catalytic role in development of new therapies and diagnostics.

The Avestagenome Project will attempt to determine the genetic basis of longevity and age-related disorders. The population genetics-based study will use genome-wide arrays as a means to discover novel DNA polymorphisms using the Affymetrix Platform and SNP6.0 DNA Chip, says Patell. The case-control study design, in conjunction with the Avesthagen database that is a repository of participant data, will enable the linkage of novel polymorphisms to a specific trait. Ultimately, such linkages will be validated across other, non-Parsi populations.

"In addition, the transcriptome, proteome and metabolome of the samples will also be analyzed from the sample set used for genomic analysis," Patell adds. "Furthermore, the peripheral blood mononuclear cells obtained from the disease cohort will be used to screen for novel disease biomarkers and drug targets."

Under the memorandum of understanding with Harvard, Avesthagen will be involved in providing data sets from genome-wide array experiments along with other data sets that arise from other experiments analyzing population structure. In addition to providing data sets to HMS, Avesthagen will also deliver genotype data from anonymized individuals. The project is currently being funded by The Avestagenome Project International Pvt. Ltd. Funding sources for ongoing collaborations between Avesthagen and Harvard Medical School are under discussion and include grants and other opportunities.

Avesthagen's focus is "a broad systems biology model that can only be pulled off in India," says Patell.

"Cost-effective innovation is a way to move forward for India to bring it right up there in the global order where it belongs," she states.

The company works to achieve convergence of food, pharma and population genetics leading to predictive, preventive and personalized healthcare. It has established what the company describes as world class, state-of-the-art laboratory facilities in Bangalore, where it employs about 400 people. Launched in 2001, its activities include, in addition to its agri-biotechnologies product pipeline, development of clinically-validated botanical bioactives derived from Indian medicinal plants, as well as the development of a pipeline of biosimilar drugs. The company has four strategic business units: biopharmaceuticals, bionutrition, bioagriculture and science and innovation.

Avesthagen is in the process of developing biosimilars for cancer, hematological, and autoimmune diseases. The first biosimilar will enter the clinic this year and three others are in pre-clinical trials, Patell says. She expects the first one will be ready for market launch in late 2010.

In terms of the preventive bioactives pipeline, Avesthagen has launched Teestar, a clinically-validated bioactive that maintains glycemic health. Patell expects this will be followed by two others that are involved in bone development and cardiovascular healthcare.

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