September 27, 2011 | AstraZeneca, the world’s seventh-largest pharmaceutical company, has announced its plans to establish a predictive science center for bioinformatics and predictive medicine in St. Petersburg, Russia, by the end of 2011.
“By establishing this Predictive Science center, AstraZeneca introduces unique R&D expertise in the field of bioinformatics to Russia,” said Elmira Safarova, AstraZeneca’s scientific project manager based in Russia. “The new center in St. Petersburg will be one of the two R&D bioinformatics centers established by the company globally—another center is already located in Shanghai. We hope that this new R&D center will help to bring new discoveries, which will contribute to better health and quality of life of Russian patients.”
Nikolai Nikitin, head of the Voronezh Children’s Clinic, one of the leading Russian child health centers, comments: “There is a strong possibility that the center will serve the company’s needs in the development of the new drugs against cancer and cardiovascular diseases, which production will become top priority for the company in Russia, taking into the high mortality rate from these diseases in the country and the ever growing demand for such kind of drugs in Russia.”
The center is expected to focus on the development of data analysis methods, software, and systems to better predict the safety and efficacy of innovative drugs. Other possible work areas include building mathematical models of bacterial cells, the design of bacterial genetic engineering structures, and the construction of models describing the interaction of infectious agents with the human body and the immune system.
As part of the project, there are also plans to create and develop high-performance information and computer technologies.
The new center will employ approximately 30 people, many Russian, and will work in cooperation with leading Russian companies and research institutes in the field of bioinformatics, such as the Skolkovo Innovation Centre and the Russian Venture Company.
Financial details of the project were not disclosed.
AstraZeneca has high hopes for the implementation of the project. David Brennan, AstraZeneca’s CEO said Russian basic science has always been at a high level, which could encourage new scientific discoveries and further their practical application.
In the meantime, most of the leading Russian analysts in the field of bioinformatics consider the project very promising, especially taking into the account the availability of highly skilled bioinformaticians in Russia.
Russian Bioinformatics Draw
According to Mikhail Gelfand, deputy director of the Institute for Problems of Information Transmission, and local Bioinformatics Research and Training Center, in recent years several foreign bioinformatics companies, mostly from the US, have expanded into Russia. Some of these companies carry out only outsourcing studies, while others conduct a full range of research activities in Russia, leaving in the U.S. only front offices, however the AstraZeneca project is expected to be the largest of all existing projects.
“If it works, it will be very useful because it will show a real example of industrial interest in the Russian bioinformatics, and will provide jobs for Russian experts in the field of bioinformatics, which prefer to work in the companies, rather than in institutions,” Gelfand said.
Nikitin added that the company will benefit from cooperation with Russian experts in the field of bioinformatics, known for their work in gene recognition, prediction of RNA secondary structure, the search for motifs, and gene expression analysis.
According to Gelfand, at present there are about ten bioinformatics laboratories working in Russia on a good international level. One of them is a St. Petersburg laboratory, which was established by Paul Pevzner, professor of the University of California, San Diego.
He also predicted that the development of bioinformatics and prognostic medicine in Russia will continue in the future, which is expected to result in the shortage of skills, especially given the ever growing demand for specialists, which are able to conduct computer analysis of data directly in the course of the experiment.
AstraZeneca is also constructing a production plant in Kaluga, Russia. Total volume of investments in the project will exceed more than $1.2 billion. •
This article also appeared in the 2011 September-October issue of Bio-IT World magazine.