Plasma protein partnership

UK Biobank announces that 10 biopharmaceutical companies will take part in a consortium to measure circulating plasma proteins

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Plasma protein partnership

LONDON—UK Biobank has shared news of an industry consortium to conduct a study measuring the circulating concentrations of nearly 1,500 plasma proteins in the blood of roughly 53,000 UK Biobank participants, making it one of the largest studies of blood protein concentrations done to date.

The consortium is comprised of 10 biopharmaceutical companies who have commissioned and funded the study, including Amgen, AstraZeneca, Biogen, Bristol Myers Squibb, Genentech (a member of the Roche Group), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer Inc., Regeneron and Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. The laboratory work will be performed by Swedish proteomics company Olink with its proprietary technology, which combines high-throughput and high-quality protein-level data from extremely small sample volumes.

"Measuring protein levels in the blood is crucial to understanding the link between genetic factors and the development of common life-threatening diseases,” said Prof. Naomi Allen, chief scientist at the UK Biobank. “With data on genetic, imaging, lifestyle factors and health outcomes over many years, this will be the largest proteomic study in the world to be shared as a global scientific resource. These combined data could enable researchers to make novel scientific discoveries about how circulating proteins influence our health, and to better understand the link between genetics and human disease." 

UK Biobank has made available de-identified genetic data (with consent) on its 500,000 participants so that scientists can pinpoint genes and sequences implicated in various diseases. The organization stated in a press release that moving to circulating proteins is the “next major step” and will provide information that can “enable research into the association between genetic variation and circulating protein levels, which in turn, will help to understand the links between genetics and human disease. Studying the levels of many different proteins in UK Biobank participants will allow scientists to assess the extent to which particular proteins are involved in the development or progression of different diseases.”

The dataset from this consortium will be de-identified and added to UK Biobank's research resource. While the companies funding the work will initially have a nine-month exclusivity period of access to the data, it will afterwards be made available to all approved researchers.

Each consortium member is intending to analyze the proteomic measurements to generate new insights into the role of circulating proteins in human health and disease. This work will—ideally—lead to the discovery of novel associations between genetic variants, protein concentrations and traits of relevance to drug discovery and development, and the partners will use those associations to identify potential new therapeutics, validate existing therapeutic options, and identify blood-based biomarkers for patient stratification and treatment response.

This dataset will also feature samples from about 1,500 UK Biobank participants who have evidence of previously being infected with SARS-CoV-2, as well as 1,500 participants who show no evidence of previous infection, all of whom have undergone detailed whole body imaging. UK Biobank suggested that this subset of participants—and the resulting data—“has the potential to enhance our understanding of SARS-CoV-2 infection on both changes in internal organs and circulating protein levels, including proteins related to inflammation, which are thought to be of vital importance in the body’s response to SARS-CoV-2 infection.”

Photo credit: AstraZeneca

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