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Wellcome Sanger Institute, Open Targets Fund Inflammatory Bowel Disease Biomarker Study

NEW YORK – A new multiomics research project in the UK funded by Open Targets and the Wellcome Sanger Institute aims to identify biomarkers of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) onset and severity that could inform precision medicine treatments.

The Open-IBD1 study, announced Friday ahead of World IBD Day on May 19, is a collaboration between research institutions, hospitals, drugmakers, and patient groups, who will seek to collect genetic, molecular, cellular, bacterial, viral, and clinical data from 1,000 patients with IBD, an umbrella term for conditions that cause chronic gastrointestinal inflammation, such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

The initiative will receive £7.1 million (about $9 million) in funding from Open Targets, a public-private program that uses genomic data to validate therapeutic targets, and £4 million (about $5 million) from the Wellcome Sanger Institute to fund research nurses and clinical Ph.D. fellows trained in genomics and data analytics at each of the seven participating UK hospitals to support patient recruitment and data analysis for the project. 

Project collaborators will search for biomarkers that could be used to predict IBD onset, monitor disease progression, identify those who could benefit from certain treatments, and find potential targets for drug development.

Researchers expect to recruit the first patient by early 2025. They will recruit patients who are referred to a participating hospital with suspected IBD, from whom they will collect blood and stool samples, as well as clinical information via questionnaires and have access to biopsy samples taken when a patient undergoes diagnostic colonoscopy.

Over the course of two years, researchers will continue to collect biopsy and blood samples that will be analyzed using single-cell RNA sequencing and stool samples that will undergo metagenomic shotgun sequencing and RNA sequencing. Researchers will also collect DNA samples to investigate genetic factors that might underpin disease progression and prognosis. Clinical information about disease progression and treatment outcomes will be collected for up to four years.

Anonymized data will be shared with Open Targets' consortium of pharmaceutical partners for potential drug development, and eventually be accessible to researchers worldwide.

"For many people, [IBD] can be severe, and unfortunately, treatments are either ineffective or their effectiveness may lessen over time," Chris Lamb, honorary consultant in gastroenterology at Newcastle Hospitals and Open-IBD clinical lead from Newcastle University, said in a statement. "Our goal with Open-IBD is to work with patients to uncover biomarkers that can be used to guide personalized treatment, helping to understand why IBD impacts people in different ways, and to provide new and tailored options to those living with this condition."

Lamb is leading the Open-IBD project as a co-chief investigator with Carl Anderson, the head of human genetics at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.