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The Advanced Genomics Collaboration (TAGC) is a partnership between the University of Melbourne and global leader in genomics Illumina. TAGC is driving innovation in genomic healthcare, which has the potential to revolutionise healthcare through its personalised approach. Already, Victorian cancer patients are benefiting from real-time genomic testing.
- The Advanced Genomics Collaboration (TAGC), a partnership between the University of Melbourne and Illumina, a global leader in genomics, is accelerating the commercialisation and translation of genomic healthcare research.
- The study of human genes, genomics has the potential to revolutionise healthcare through highly personalised care.
- Already, Victorian cancer patients are benefiting from real-time genomic testing.
- Invest Victoria is supporting TAGC, and the collaboration is reaping the benefits of co-locating industry and researchers in the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct.
The Advanced Genomics Collaboration (TAGC), a partnership between the University of Melbourne and global leader in genomics Illumina, is the first genomics hub in the Asia-Pacific region. TAGC is accelerating the commercialisation and translation of genomic healthcare research.
The groundbreaking collaboration has already led to many cancer patients in Victoria benefiting from real-time genomic testing. That means experts can address cancer cases with far more targeted solutions, using each unique genetic code to inform diagnoses and therapeutic solutions.
TAGC can be found in the Melbourne Biomedical Precinct , which brings together experts from healthcare, science and research in the heart of Parkville.
“The Melbourne Biomedical Precinct is the right place for TAGC,” says Simon Giuliano, Commercial Lead Oceania at Illumina. “It is in the heart of Melbourne, easily accessible and brings together researchers, clinicians and medical technology companies. It’s a great setting to maximise knowledge transfer and commercialisation to improve patient lives.”
Bringing together experts from various fields into a physical precinct helps accelerate the impact of their research, according to Danni Jarrett, CEO of Invest Victoria.
“It’s also great to have a brand – something that’s tangible – because we talk with investors all around the world and that has an impact. It’s a brand that others increasingly want to be a part of.”
And early flagship innovation projects are already making an impact. Once such project, ID Predict, uses genomics to create biological and immunological profiles of COVID-19 patients which help to identify optimum treatments. Its advances could have significant implications for future infectious disease outbreaks.
Fifteen years ago, the first ever human genome – a complete set of DNA instruction found in a human cell – was mapped. It took more than 13 years to accomplish, costing more than $3 billion and involving hundreds of researchers from around the world.
Now, the same process takes just a few days.
“We often hear about Moore’s law in IT,” says Prof Grimmond, referring to the concept that the number of transistors on a computer chip doubles every year, leadings to ever-quickening innovation.
“For a long time, genomics sequencing technology has been running at least double, and sometimes triple [the rate of] Moore’s law.”
From rapid diagnosis to early intervention, prevention, and targeted therapy, advancements in genomics medicine have the potential to transform how we deliver healthcare, promising better patient outcomes and a more efficient health system.
However, to realise this potential, there must be whole-of-system change. The Advanced Genomics Collaboration (TAGC) is taking a holistic approach to genomics innovation, bringing together an interdisciplinary team of experts.
TAGC is made up of three core platforms, which have been established to enable fast and affordable research, analysis, clinical trials, commercialisation and application of genomics-based health innovation.
One of these platforms is the clinical genomics platform.
“That’s the engine room for taking specimens from patients, and then being able to decode their genetic blueprint quickly,” explains Prof Grimmond. “Depending on the disease, you can then define the variants or mutations that may be underlying it.”
A major innovation project is examining the use of genomics in cancer diagnostics. In particular, the researchers are examining markers for “recalcitrant cancers”, the category of cancers that haven’t seen the same rate of improvement in outcomes as other types.
“We’re sequencing rare cases where there is no playbook, trying to work out the root causes of those diseases, one patient at a time,” says Prof Grimmond.
Given that genomics can map our individual DNA footprints, it also has the potential for healthcare to be far more tailored to the needs of individuals. “We’re trying to move from an approach where you use therapies in hierarchical fashion based on how frequently you think they should work on a population. It’s a swing and a miss until you find the drug that works.
“Can we decode a patient’s genome to work out the root cause of their disease? This personalised approach works well.”
A bioinformatics platform is the second key plank of the collaboration. For the genomics revolution to reach its full potential, researchers need to be able to process vast swathes of data efficiently and accurately. The platform is led by Professor Oliver Hofmann, whose team is collaborating with Illumina to develop systems that reduce the time taken to sequence patient data and improve reliability .
In essence, the researchers are using Illumina’s DRAGEN Bioinformatics Platform, a decentralised technology that speeds up the process through parallel data analysis.
“Next-generation sequencing produces large amounts of data,” says Illumina’s Giuliano. “For it to be of value to clinicians and patients at the bedside, data needs to be analysed and provide meaningful information to help inform treatment decisions. And it needs to be fast.”
Finally, a health economics platform is analysing TAGC’s genomic datasets to provide evidence-based guidance for public policy and investment.
“Working with a like-minded collaborator such as the University of Melbourne is always rewarding,” says Giuliano. “The dedication and creative spirit of their researchers and students to find solutions to some of the world’s biggest health problems has helped to overcome many challenges.”
Technology development history
The Bioinformatics Platform will generate massive datasets of patient information, mapping their entire genome, as opposed to a single panel of DNA. Professor Oliver Hofmann and his team are collaborating with Illumina to develop systems that reduce the time taken to sequence patient data. A new Illumina cloud-computing platform allows the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Cancer Research team to analyse large data sets in parallel. The result drastically reduces analysis time for patients, from 72 hours to as little as 12 hours.
The University of Melbourne
Invest Victoria and the Victorian Government’s Department of Education and Training assisted in resourcing the $60 million initiative.
First published on 16 March 2023.
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